🧐 agile monocle S01E01: Have you ever seen a small, autonomous, stable, cross-functional team?

Have you ever seen a small, autonomous, stable, cross-functional team?

This first episode of agile monocle turned out to be about dynamics. Team dynamics and organizational dynamics.

More often than not agile gets associated with mere mechanics: both Scrum and Kanban offer more than a few ways to be dumbed down and stripped of their values and principles to the point of becoming just checklists of things you have to do in order to be agile — “do the standup, do the retrospective, check your velocity, check your WIP, turn left, turn right, make a jump, smile, smile more, #happynessatwork”.

So open your mind and your eyes (at least one eye, not the one wearing the monocle, possibly), and let’s take a look on how things really move inside an organization, shall we?

Have you ever seen a stable team?

I love the work Heidi Helfland has done about breaking down the myth of the small, stable cross-functional darling team that never, ever existed in the history of teams.

This is a 15 minutes video were she explains the basics of the concepts in her book, “Dynamic Reteaming”, coming mainly from her real-life experience and not from some theoretical application of Scrum, or, god forbid, the Spotify Model. If you are up for a longer, more in-depth overview you can take a look at this longer talk.

“If change is constant, you better get good at it”

It made me think about how much, as consultants, we like to talk about the Tuckman model but we never offer practical advice on how to handle the different stages of a team’s lifecycle. Helfland’s approach made me think that Tuckman’s model might not be the best way to learn and teach about approaching teams dynamics, while the ecocycle/panarchy model is way more fitting — but that’s for another episode.

We put too much value into the stability and permanence of a team: teams are never stable and we should deal with it with proper approaches — which is learning to deal with the dynamics and to not enforce static models and prescriptive mechanics.

Have you ever seen a cross-functional team?

On the subject of “things that exist only in theory”, after the concept of the stable team, let’s see how many times we heard about organizing an entire company or product development department based on a number of small, cross-functional teams that seems to be a mandatory requirement for agility.

But what if we don’t have a cross-functional team? What if we can’t have a cross-functional team? Wait a moment: is a cross-functional team the one and only solution to the COVID-19 pandemic, to world hunger and to reach world peace?

This is an interesting article for many reasons: first of all, it talks about tech. Second, it describes an organizational evolution through time. Third, it takes into account both technological and organizational issues (you have perhaps noticed that, along the way, we somehow forgot that most agile principles come from the software world). Fourth: it faces the reality that not all teams are and should fit the mythical small, cross-functional “Scrum-like” archetype.

Fifth, and maybe more important of all the above: it doesn’t prescribe a perfect organizational model at the end, but it opens up possibilities on how to evolve given the fact that you should be constantly working on your organization.

Here’s a really brief introduction to Wardley Mapping by the man himself, and the key concepts about Team Topologies.

What do you see?

This newsletter is about a monocle, not about a monologue. I want to hear from you, so if you want to ask about anything or suggest a topic, you can reply to the newsletter, comment here below, or send a request here. I’d like to make it as much interactive as possible. Don’t make me open a Slack channel.

See you next week, agile monocle episode 2 will be out on Monday, September 21st.