The Most Important Factor to Build Long-Lasting Agile Teams
There are many factors that lead to successful software products: expertise, organization, communications, agility, etc. It takes the right combination of people, process, and technology to bring a piece of sophisticated software together successfully. But what is the real “secret sauce” that makes all of this work? What does it really take to create elegant digital products that customers can’t wait to buy? You might be surprised by the answer.
Self-organizing teams are a cornerstone for Agile development and the key to success in building the foundation for software development projects, both short and long-term. But what exactly do we mean when we say self-organized? According to one organization’s definition:
“At the simplest level, a self-organizing team is one that does not depend on or wait for a manager to assign work. Instead, these teams find their own work and manage the associated responsibilities and timelines.”
What's tricky is that there are many dynamics behind how to make them work successfully. Some of the most common theories to success are Jeff Bezos’ two pizza team, which states that individual teams shouldn’t be larger than what two pizzas can feed. The downside of anything larger is that you become a victim of the “too many cooks in the kitchen” syndrome. Things tend to get unwieldy if too many people are involved in a project.
Two Main Pitfalls of Self-Organized Teams
As important as they are, self-organizing teams come with plenty of hurdles. Two main hurdles are described below.
Pitfall 1: Hierarchy
Some of the biggest ones are based on our own mental pre-conditioning. We’re continually surrounded by hierarchies and power structures based upon a one-person-in-control paradigm whether that’s the president of a country or the pilot of a plane. While these structures are a given in society, they tend to create an almost unconscious bias in how we work; we expect to be told what to do.
Pitfall 2: Superheroes
Typically we think of superheroes as being a positive influence. However, another form of mental conditioning is the “superhero complex,” which often derives from sports. We all like to watch great athletes in action as they inspire the best in all of us.
Trouble can start at a deeper level when teammates rely on the superstar to carry the weight of the team. Since the expectation is that the superstar will always score, it becomes tempting to rely on them rather than working together as a unit or taking on a larger role.
What happens if you shift the “superhero” mindset to one of leadership? In this model, the real superstar is someone who brings a new level of energy to the team. Rather than the one who necessarily made the most points, this hero may be the enthusiastic problem solver who looks after the team, uplifts them, and supports their highs and lows.
In the following, we build on this framework to discuss the essential elements required to build super successful teams. Here, we link to the top characteristics that define a self-organizing team and what it takes to create one.
You’ve heard the old adage about “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Too many “experts” in one room means trouble and will severely limit your team’s likelihood of success. It’s important to keep your team in sync and balanced so that every member demonstrates skills that complement each other.
This goes against the common superhero mentality in which one charismatic, talented team member carries the weight of the team and overshadows less experienced members. From an Agile engineering perspective, a properly balanced software team is one with the right distribution of skill sets. The object is to ensure that junior members don’t get overwhelmed and senior developers don’t become bored.
There are a lot of analogies between running an Agile software development team and sports. On a team, it’s important to periodically replace your best players with substitutes so that no one loses core skills, passion, or motivation. Similarly, it’s important to always keep your junior (substitute) developers engaged, learning, and skilling up. There will come a time when a more senior engineer leaves for another opportunity or is placed on another project. The ideal scenario happens when the junior replacement is ready to step right in and fill their shoes.
While COVID-19 has mandated virtual work teams for companies in 2020 indefinitely, remote work is not the ideal for software development teams in the long-term. Nothing can replace the importance of face-to-face interactions when it comes to designing, building, and deploying elegant products. Team members that spend time together develop a certain camaraderie that’s not possible through remote interaction alone. Whether it involves solving some business challenges or grabbing a lunch together or working heads down on a project, the importance of in-person work cannot be overestimated.
This is what makes Integrant’s 4Plus1 Shadow Engineering Program so effective. The program enables engineers to “shadow” the main project team so they can integrate more easily into an existing workflow. It’s not only a great way to cross-train engineers and keep their skills sharp, but helps the company to rotate engineers across departments more seamlessly. Without the ability to meet in person, the impact of the 4Plus1 program wouldn’t be nearly as high. The benefits of team familiarity and close physical proximity are irreplaceable in Agile software development environments.
Have an existing project that needs extra help? Our engineers are ready to jump in at any point of a project and get the ball rolling! Contact us today.
A good coach always knows how to get “next level” performance out of a team. It’s one thing to build a finely tuned squad that operates effectively together. It’s another to keep it running optimally win after win. It’s often tempting to attain a goal and then think, “I’ve paid the price to get where I am; so now I’m free to coast.” The ability to continually keep a software team on track and operating at optimal levels takes strong discipline and intuition. Leaders should never be afraid to switch up their engineers to identify the best team synergy for the project. Tweaking and fine-tuning a good team will only make it better.
Know Your Mission
When a sports team goes out to the field, there’s no question in any player’s mind about the mission: to win the game! Likewise, each software developer must know where the team is going and what they want to achieve. Your mission statement is basically what gets you up in the morning. It’s about how you and your team are going to change the world? At Integrant, our mission is clear and straightforward:
“To create a winning formula of people, process, and analytics. We secure customer success by predicting and removing the challenges of software development.”
Build Your Team Culture
The success of any self-organized team depends heavily on its team culture. Creating a safe environment in which to grow, learn, and celebrate wins together is critical for the health of any team. Each member should do their best to prepare everyone else for success. Ideally, a well-functioning team becomes like a family, which holds each other accountable through transparent communications and regular check-ins.
Mindset is Everything
A safe and prosperous culture doesn’t just happen. Everyone must do his or her part to embrace a positive mindset and attitude. For example, how we treat others, how we value their opinions, how we communicate – this is all a reflection of our mindset. One of the most important attributes for team-building is flexibility, agility, and open-mindedness. Seeing team members as investments not costs and focusing on their strengths not weaknesses is critical to everyone’s success. Keeping a positive mindset is about laying aside the ego and treating others as you wish to be treated. Respecting others’ opinions and speaking courteously is paramount, and solves so much of the drama issues that easily get in the way of healthy team interactions. First and foremost, successful team synergy all starts with the proper mindset.
Recruiting and hiring for success is part of the magic behind a self-organized team. It’s critically important to bring in people who are aligned from Day 1 with your company’s core values, vision, and mission. If you don’t align upfront, then it will never happen. While it’s not entirely clear if good hiring is an art or science, there’s no doubt that the process requires a strong recruitment process that rigorously screens applicants to find the best fit for the job. Strong recruitment is key to a successful self-organized team. As one source has well stated: “A good recruitment process allows you to find qualified candidates quickly and efficiently. The process requires intentional planning and constant evaluation.”
Team Size is Critical
There’s actually a mathematical equation that shows a direct correlation between the number of relationships and the amount of people on the team: [R = n*(n-1)/2]. For 3 people you get 3 relationships that must be maintained while for 9 people it turns into 36. You get the point; the larger the group, the more difficult to maintain trust, communication, and alignment. This is why the two-pizza team is such a good idea; if you have more people on your team than it takes to feed with two pizzas, then it’s probably too large!
Empathy Goes a Long Way
Probably one of the most important (and sadly, one of the rarest) attributes today is empathy. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and to see things from their perspective is the single most powerful way to create a powerful team synergy. Performance is obviously important for any business, but at the end of the day we’re all human beings. Everyone is going to have a bad day on occasion, and this is why team support is so important. The ability to patiently understand each other’s shortcomings will result in a much stronger team dynamic. Remember, empathy goes a long way and costs nothing!
How Long Does it Take to Build a Successful Self-Organized Team?
Building a high-quality team that is self-organized, efficient, and high performant does not happen overnight.
Our project management experts suggest that after hiring a new engineer, it takes about six months to really begin to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Bringing on a new person is always a risk because there are obvious unknowns beyond the interview; someone who interviews extremely well may still mask certain red flags in their work ethic or character. A good rule of thumb is to count on at least a year for an engineer to really settle into their new environment and to allow time for adjustments, tweaks, and mentoring to fully prepare that person for success.
At Integrant, we are proud of our hiring track record. Fortunately, we’ve had very high retention rate over the years, which indicates a solid ability to identify outstanding team players that bring together the right blend of experience, mindset, and soft skills.
Need some outsourcing help midway through a project? Our Agile environment makes jumping in at any point of a project easy. Reach out to us today!
Signs of a Strong Self-Organized Team
Successful self-organized teams are not hard to miss. They are characterized by a set of values that are enviable and unmistakably on point. At Integrant, we define success as a reflection of the unique values that define us as a company. In summary, these are:
GRIT is the secret sauce at the core of each of our employees
At Integrant, grit means getting the job done and never giving up. We believe if our employees have grit, they can accomplish anything.
Our team shows up. TOGETHER.
We just roll up our sleeves and get right in the thick of it. Our engineers individually take ownership in their work and actions, which rolls up to the team level, giving our customers’ teams that are a breeze to work with.
We will always be real with our engineers and customers
Open communication and honesty are critical in building long-lasting partnerships with our customers and just as importantly, our teams.
We’re always ready.
From tight timelines to lack of capacity, from budget constraints to project unknowns, we’ve got your back!
We always do what’s right for our employees, our customers, and ourselves. ALWAYS!
That’s why we hire and offer our best engineers to work on your projects. Meanwhile, our employees can always expect a fair, transparent working environment for them to thrive and grow in. And our customers can always expect to receive fairness and truth no matter what.
Our commitment to a service-oriented software approach is second-to-none.
From policies to programs, methodologies, and our custom software, we do everything with service in mind.
At Integrant, we strive to build outstanding software development teams that love what they do and do what they love. After 29 years and counting in the business, we think we’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to build ready-to-go, self-organized, and Agile teams.
There is no one magic formula for pulling this off, but what is clear is that it takes hard work. It requires a lot of dedication to properly vet your candidates, to determine the right fit, and to ensure they’re aligned with your values and culture. It requires time and patience to bring in new hires and integrate them into your workstreams and to mentor them for success. All of this takes at least a year minimally and oftentimes longer. But the path is well worth it! Because there’s nothing quite like receiving the accolades and references from a super-happy client. There’s nothing quite as special as seeing your employees engaged, happy, and thankful to be part of your organization.
If you’re looking for a way to set your business a part in the market, or would like to begin your journey towards digital transformation, then you’ve come to the right place. Because we know that “teamwork makes the dream work,” we are prepared and ready to make your own dreams come alive. Our team of seasoned developers will plan, strategize, and build a compelling and elegant solution that exceeds your expectations. We’d be more than happy to share a demo of our work!
Give us a call today to learn how we can partner together on your next project. Subscribe below or contact us to see the impact we can make for you and your business.