Setting-up Effective Teams

For a team to effectively deliver valuable business outcomes, which are aligned with the strategy and fulfil the needs of customers and clients, they should typically be set-up with the following characteristics.

These characteristics are rules of thumb. Any compromises and trade-offs against these characteristics are likely to reduce team effectiveness and delay delivery. With continuous leadership guidance and coaching, the team should regularly review and make adjustments to find the sweet spot.

These characteristics can be viewed as enabling constraints, in that they are set of conditions which, although constraining, will enable the team’s alignment to business needs, handle uncertainty and effectively deliver value.

I’ve written them in the style of the Agile Manifesto:

As a team, in a world of complexity and uncertainty,
we will continuously uncover the best ways of working to achieve business outcomes.

To do this we follow these rules of thumb to continuously improve how we work.

While there maybe value in the ways of working on the right, we value ways of working on the left more.

Small team size over large team size

Small teams reduce the number of people who need to be kept up-to-date and therefore increases the team’s cohesion and nimbleness. Between five to nine people is the optimum.

Learn more by reading about the two pizza rule.

Co-located over distributed team

Teams who sit together are able to share, discover and deliver with the least barriers to communication. Empathy and effectiveness are maximised. The benefits of non-verbal communication and emergent rituals are constrained when individuals are distributed.

Full-time over multiple endeavours

Teams who are full-time on a single project or initiative have the least amount of distraction. They don’t suffer the overhead of context-switching between different work.

Cross-disciplined over siloed specialisms

Team deliver quickly when they have everyone they need to take a concept through to delivery. They won’t be hampered by having to wait or consult with external parties. Individuals should be T-shaped meaning they have breath of knowledge and skills.

Learn more by reading the parable of the three-blind men encountering an elephant.

Self-managing over external management

If the team has the clarity of their mission and have the competency to deliver the mission, they are best placed to discover how to manage themselves and decide how work should be delivered. Maximise their control over decisions.

Emotional intelligence over narrow worldview

Individuals should have the capability to recognise their own emotions and those of others. They should use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and professionally handle the inevitable trial and tribulations to achieve their team goals.

Long-lasting over short-term teams

It takes time for a team to understand its characters, nuances and specialists, and time for the team to form its culture and ways of working. Once the team has stabilised and is highly performant, be careful not to break-up the team without a compelling reason.

Learn more by reading about the Tuckman model.

Leadership support over distant management

Attempting to deliver business value, particularly for new business initiatives, is inherently uncertain. Teams need support from leaders to ensure strategic alignment. Leaders should remove organisational impediments and negotiate with staunch traditionalists.

Close to customers over proxy interpretation

In order for the team to reduce the feedback cycle between learning and deliver, they must be closest in the organisation to the customers or clients. Any intermediaries will slow the feedback cycle, increase misinterpretation and reduce customer retention.

Notes

I find my view on co-location the most contrarian. My view is that the more the work is uncertain, complex and variation, the more the team should choose to co-locate with the work environment designed around their needs. On the other hand, if the work is familiar, predictable and routine, then the team could be distributed.

Thanks to Tom Broughton for helping me strengthen this article.

Agile and Organisational Resilience – Part 2: Beyond Agile & Lean

This series of articles examines how organisations can create opportunity following a crisis. I will argue that as the world becomes more complex and undiscernable, how organisations prepare and deal with inevitable failure can give them a competitive advantage. So much so that intentional failure can provide more upside than the downside.

Many readers will be from the fields of Agile and Lean. Following on from my introduction to this series, this article will consider the maturity of these ways of working, but then put them to one-side until the end of this article series.

Why put them to one-side, especially considering I’m an Agile Coach? Well, to be frank, their current application is becoming commoditised. Their essence and original intent are being over-shadowed by large consultancies, large-scale change initiatives, sheep-dip training programmes and certification one-upmanship. Such organisations and initiatives often pay little more than lip-service to Agile’s and Lean’s simple yet powerful approach.

Using Geoffrey Moore’s Adoption Curve, there’s a lot to suggest Agile application is travelling across Early Majority. My opinion isn’t unique; Dave Snowden and many in the agile community recognise this trend.

Where would you place the maturity of agile and lean the adoption curve?

If we consider ourselves as change-agents, co-developing new emerging ways of working to help our clients and colleagues, we need to look beyond Agile and Lean – particularly in its current commodified application. This is my intent for this series of articles.

Another reason why I shan’t dwell on Agile and Lean is that I believe they have little application during an organisation’s crisis. However, later I will argue they play an important role once a crisis has been stabilised.

There’s a great deal of literature on how Agile and Lean deliver customer value at pace in a complex environment. I’m not going to repeat it here other than to say these approaches are particularly useful when dealing with known problems and opportunities. The challenge is that knowledge and understanding do not exist during shock events and crises that will inevitably engulf an organisation.

There’s a degree of overlap and complementarity between Scrum, Lean and Lean Startup, yet each has distinct emphasis.

Putting Agile and Lean to one-side, in my next article I’ll be returning to organisational resilience. I’ll be telling the story of Nokia, a company that has fallen out of favour yet has an impressive history of resilience.

 

Beyond traditional organisational resilience

In business, organisational resilience often relates to ensuring services and operations are maintained, or return to their current state after a period of instability.

However, there is an extension of resilience that organisations can utilise to continuously evolve, find new stable states and rapidly seek novel opportunities.

These benefits can result from intended low exposure to instability that would otherwise be too brand damaging in high degrees.

Examples of types of organisational resilience

Barclays: Resilience testing used to ensure existing service & operations are maintained

Sainsbury’s: Rapidly improved proposition using customer complaints feedback after intentional closure of an in-store bakery

Netflix: Increases resilience from purposeful disruption of infrastructure – Chaos Monkey

Domino’s (USA): In 2010, recovered brand image through a self-critical ad campaign

Walmart: During Hurricane Katrina crisis, Walmart used their logistics capability to provide disaster relief to local communities; thus capitalising on this Black Swan event

Stabilise rapidly and exploit new learning

Whether instability is intentional or a result of external factors, organisations should be structured to rapidly respond, and capitalise on new understanding

References

Barclays: Reference on request

Sainsbury’s: Contact Dean Latchana

Netflix: Chaos Monkey

Domino’s (USA): How Domino’s Pizza Reinvented Itself

Walmart: How Wal-Mart used Hurricane Katrina to repair its image

Find out more

Resilient Organizations: How to Survive, Thrive and Create Opportunities Through Crisis and Change – Erica Seville (2016)

Antifragile – Nassim Taleb (2012)

My mini-series of articles on organisational resilience (2018)

I’m available to deliver a talk on Agile and Organisational Resilience.

Contact Dean Latchana to learn more about how organisations can benefit from intentional disruption and crises.
(dean@latchana.co.uk)

Talk: The rise and fall of an agile transformation

This talk will be given in London at Aginext.io 2019 on 22 March 2019.


The rise and fall of an agile transformation

And the green shoots of recovery

A bittersweet true story

It was going so well. The CEO had recognised business agility as critically relevant to the organisation. A FTSE 100 organisation that’s served its customers for 150 years. A firm whose market share is now threatened by cheaper competition, technology upstarts and market forces.

The CEO had appointed a powerful Director of Transformation to battle against the corporate bear. The transformation programme had assembled 10 courageous lieutenants to build, test and learn how to create opportunities amounting to several £100m.

The delivery teams were proving business agility was possible outside the confines of IT. They were autonomous, had leadership protection and delivered value within weeks. They were mavericks, and they were winning….

Yet, within 12-months the embryonic transformation programme was engulfed by the slower corporation. The CEO had bigger fish to fry. The leadership team went their separate ways. The transformation principles become no more than wistful memories and words printed on a rolled-up abandoned poster.

Yet, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, there are early signs of revival….

Come to this talk to hear this true story of a plucky band of agile transformation pioneers attempting the impossible of moving an organisation across the chasm.

You’ll get lessons and advice from a transformation coach that was in the thick of it.

S.I.L.L.Y Organisations

S is for Structure

With its functional silos, the structure of our organisations is not effective in creating an environment for shared intent, cross-functional collaboration and synchronisation.

Create small, colocated, full-time, cross-disciplined, self-managing, long-lasting teams that continuously deliver value directly to our organisations’ customers and clients.

I is for Incentives

We often incentivise, reward and recognise individuals and departments with little regard to whether they’ve worked alongside others to ensure value is delivered end-to-end.

Instead, we should evaluate performance holistically and with peer feedback for learning and development. We should reward shared success against the competition.

L is for Leadership

As leaders, we are often schooled in, and then perpetuate ways of working that are a legacy of 19th-century manufacturing and 20th-century cost-driven centralisation. This may be appropriate for managing from a distance and at scale.

However, it’s not fit-for-purpose for most 21st-century business endeavours where organisations need to become value-driven and sense & respond to market conditions. As leaders, we should know teams need to be devolved, yet have a more involved leadership that coaches and aligns teams.

L is for Losing Time

Too often organisations lose 80% of their time trying to deliver what is in reality only 20% of the value.

Instead, our organisations should be spending, at most, 20% of their time determining whether there’s potential to realise 80% of the value. Test assumptions, challenge convictions, and course-correct before spending 20% of the time and budget.

If, despite best efforts, the value cannot be realised, pull the plug on the work without delay, regroup, reflect and set off in a new direction.

Embody the principles of Action before Perfection and Delivering Value Early and Often

Y is for Yesterday

In a fast-changing world, yesterday’s success is no guarantee for future success.

Check out Barry O’Reilly book Unlearn.

S, I, L, L and Y spells SILLY.

Each point represents the often unquestioned reality of many of our organisations. It hampers Business Agility – the ability of an organisation to continuously sense and respond to its environment in order to fulfil its mission.

We need to be bold, ask challenging questions and co-discover ways to create organisations that support our colleagues to deliver value to customers, clients and civil society.

Email or call me to discuss.
dean@latchana.co.uk
+447801 953 120