Home > Agile stuff > Helping a group to become a team

Helping a group to become a team

Putting a few people together in a project does not make them into a team. And when people are not a team but must work together chances are they do not perform that well. It could even be the case that you could be more productive if you gave the task to a single person…

The thing is that for becoming a team certain conditions must hold. Numerous books like The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Leading Teams and The Wisdom Of Teams just to name a few, have been written about teams and how to make them work.

Aside from the obvious things like skills for the tasks at hand and skills for cooperating with other people, the most important thing for a team, according to these books, is mutual trust and team cohesiveness. From my experiences with guiding teams I find that task and team skills can be learned most of the time, but trust and cohesiveness are harder objectives that need to be created.

A cohesive team
A cohesive team is one where the team members are all working on one common goal. There is only one goal and all team member activities are directly contributing to that goal. I always like to relate this back to a class. A cohesive class has only one responsibility and all its members and methods are used for realizing that responsibility. To create a cohesive team, goals and goal setting activities are very important. They have been recognized as a key enabler to high performing teams. (see e.g. Locke’s Goal Setting Theory) In agile processes, i.e. Scrum we can use the sprint goal for creating a cohesive team. I like to formulate one clear and challenging sprint goal in terms of user valued functionality. This helps set direction for the team. Once you have the clear sprint goal, you can use it to gain focus and thereby cohesion within the team. The sprint goal helps the team e.g. on deciding what tasks to do and what tasks not to do. Or when a task is sufficiently done or not in order to meet the sprint goal. But, for a team to be able to have productive discussions on important issues like these there needs to be trust among team members.

Trust among team members is something that comes from two things. The first is respect. People gain respect from others when they see that the person is competent in the tasks the team has to do. A skilled programmer can gain the respect of other team members by showing his skills. The second necessary ingredient for establishing trust is caring. So, if in a team setting you respect a person and that person cares about you completing your tasks then that person is gaining your trust.

Establishing team values and rules can help to establish trust within a team. When as a team you agree upon a set of values and rules you establish a reference point for the team. Team members can now reference the agreements and this makes it easier for people to discuss things. I’ve often seen that people have troubles asking for help. As a result they can keep on working a problem for far to much time. Another thing that is common is that people have troubles saying their real opinion. It could be that a team member is working on things that do not directly contribute to the spring goal but no one dares to challenge that person about it.

An example of a team rule I like to use is the following ‘We see asking for help when needed as a duty and sign of strength. We see not asking for help to be unprofessional and lack of respect for the team’. Another one is ‘We accept that we must justify our work to our team members’. With the team agreeing on these kinds of rules the road is set for team members to help each other more often. They show their care and skills to each other and are therefore creating trust within the team.

Although this is a first step and you must stimulate and facilitate this until it becomes common practice within the team. I’ve seen this as a good starting point to help a group become a team.

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