Agile 2006: Team Dynamics – Esther Derby

Monday 15:30-16:15


Only 5% of teams ever reach the “high performing” stage – but being aware of how teams form and what practices are needed can help to increase the chance of becoming a true high performing team.


It takes social engineering to make great teams – it doesn’t happen by accident. Good teams that people have worked on tend to be small, passionate, and focused on one common goal.

In teams with more than ten people, communication overhead grows, and teams tend not to perform as well. Good teams usually have an agreed-upon approach to the work – XP has specific practices that promote this – pair programming, refactoring, coding standards, and so on.

Teams should be made up of people with complementary skills – not the same skills, although there should be some overlap. Good teams have interdependent interim goals – such as user stories – which mean they can be successful quickly. As is especially true of agile teams, they make commitments to each other and are not hierarchical.

Team creation goes through several stages (refer to the powerpoint for the diagram of the model):

Orientation: “why am I here?”
The team need to get clear on this first!

Trust building: “who are you and can I trust you?”
Mistrustful teams are guarded, hold back and are less creative. Trustful teams accept feedback and deal with conflict. They trust in each other’s professional competence, and that their intentions for the team are good. In teams with one star performer, trust for others is low, and they tend to be less productive.
Avoiding conflict erodes trust, by resolving issues people build trust.

Goal clarification: “what are we doing?”
When teams aren’t clear on this, they become apathetic, and irrelevant competition starts to happen.

Commitment: the team ask “how will we do it?”
If this is absent, the team will snipe at each other. People who don’t have power and control over what they commit to, don’t commit. Removing the fear, and allowing people to make small promises means they can commit to something realistic.

Implementation: in agile projects, this is done through stand-up meetings, retrospectives, reviews, and talking to customers.
High performance: at this stage, teams are having fun, and producing. Only around 5% of teams ever reach this stage.

Renewal: There are some critical skills necessary to achieve high performance. Teams must navigate conflict. Often people don’t hear each other properly, and conflict can be down to misunderstanding – in these cases it’s good to review the data. Peer-to-peer feedback – not just up and down – is necessary to build trust on high performing teams.

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