Dec 8, 2010

Team dynamics - Can group of specialists be a good team?

Yesterday in Agile gathering we discussed about how teams work and how to get teams work more like a team. There was lot of talk about specialists and generalists and how to spread the information of specialists to other team members to make team more successful.

Afterwards I started to think sports. All sports, for example soccer, american football, basketball, you name it are full of specialists. Best teams have most suitable specialists working together to make even more value out of each other as a team. Team member knows each others strengths and use those to beat the opponents.

 Sport teams are bit different than the work ones. There's always games and opponents where teams are weighted. Most of the time is spent practicing. Teams have team practices and individuals practice their specialties. Also there's a playbook to follow. It gives guidelines for problems that arrive rapidly in the field to make decisions which the whole team knows about. Still there's always room for excellent individuals to make their own decisions to make a difference.

Does teams work best if everyone is equal and generalist? Maybe not. Some people are always better than others in some tasks. They should be allowed to come even better on their area to make the whole team better. Main task for line manager or scrum master or whomever is watching the team is to make sure that there's a possibility to learn. Everyone should have the possibility to learn from the more experienced ones. There will always be situations when these less experienced ones need to take the responsibility and tackle the situation.

I see playbooks as an interesting idea. Maybe teams in work life could also have a playbook. That would give guidance to tackle most commonly faced problems. It would give guidelines how to start looking for solutions, but it still would leave room for individuals to make their own decisions. These could be used in discussion, retrospectives and learning's. Maybe those can't be taken directly from sports, but the idea feels interesting to me.

Self directing teams are often said to be the most successful ones. Still in sports there no fully self directing teams. In some sports, like soccer and basketball, teams are more on the self directing side when they are on the field. Then in some others like american football, there's more guidance from the coaches all the time. Maybe this self directing thing is more of a motivational issue than performance issue. Worth to keep in mind still.

I know sports is not the same as work life. There's so many differences. Maybe still, there's something to learn in work life also.  

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

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