There is enough research and evidence to support the view that cohesive and self organising teams are the best performing teams. The challenge for us is to build these teams and foster a culture in which the teams then guard this culture, entrench it within each other, instill it into new team members and hold each other accountable for not living the culture.

I was privileged to have been able to work with a great bunch of people and was able to build a team like this. In this series of posts, I’d like to share some of my experiences and views.

For the sake of clarification. In my view a cohesive and self organising team is a team that, at its core:

Fosters respect and empathy for each other. This is respect for each other’s skills and abilities, respect for each other’s cultures and backgrounds as well as empathy in the various backgrounds, cultures and life experiences.

Encourages openness. The team understands that it is collectively responsible for the work being performed and openness and honesty about performance, capabilities, knowledge and challenges is crucial in ensuring that the team can take this collective responsibility.

Allows everyone to have the courage to speak up, raise concerns and contribute ideas without fear of ridicule or embarrassment. The team knows that, in their individual capacities, they cannot know everything about everything and therefore allow each other the opportunity to contribute, regardless of perceived seniority or experience. They are also aware of their responsibilities and commitments and must have the courage to raise concerns and speak up about challenges that could jeopardise the team.

Is committed to meeting their goals by delivering to the absolute best of their ability every single day as well as committing to helping the team become stronger through the sharing of knowledge. As the team commits as a whole, each member is aware that they are not only committing in their individual capacities to perform their part in helping the team meet its commitments but also committing to helping each other to ensure that the team meets its commitments.

Is focused. The team is aware that it has made a commitment and above all else, this commitment must be met. The team knows that it takes focus and dedication to deliver on its commitments and therefore demands this focus from each team member.

The above should look familiar to Scrum teams as they are the 5 Scrum values but the values are not only valuable in a Scrum context. They are valuable to all teams regardless of business function.

I can honestly make this statement as, when I completed my Scrum Master training, these values were not part of the official scrum guide and the journey that lead to the building of the team, and the realisation of the need for these values, was done without the knowledge of the importance of these values as a base.

Some interesting research:

In my research into how to build a team like this, I came across an article that mentioned how a large IT company spent millions on researching this exact topic and then went on to share their findings. Very generous, thank you.

Anyway, the research involved creating teams comprised of various mixes of various skills, observing them over time and measuring their ability to continuously deliver at a high standard.

You can read the article (what google learned…) for yourself but the result of the research was that… The composition of the team to a large degree, did not matter. The best performing teams were those that fostered an underlying culture built on respect, empathy, openness and courage where every team member was able to contribute without fear of ridicule.


Part 2 – How we did it…

Maybe I was just lucky or maybe it really is this simple. The approach I followed was based on an experience that I had had a few years before.