Systems Thinking – Teams

Teams have great value. They have value for the individual who participates in a team – the value of affiliation and the motivation from participating in something bigger than themselves. There is also value to the company. There’s a very strong correlation between team participation and product quality.

When we form teams we tend to do it in name only. We take individuals and we take their time and focus and break it into small pieces and distribute it across multiple projects. This denies the individual the ability to actually affiliate with any individual team. We leave the individual contributor as an individual rather than a member of a team.

Timeboxing has an antidote for this, but before we get to that let’s take a look at some of Peter Drucker’s theories about teams. Drucker says there are only three kinds of teams. There is the baseball team, the tennis doubles team, and the soccer team.

The baseball team is the way we traditionally form teams in product development. You take an individual with a particular skill, fit that person into a position needed in a particular project, and you give that person a series of rules. Their behaviors are then based on reactions to stimuli based upon those rules. If you lose a person on a team like this you replace them like a cog in a machine; with another individual that has a similar skill set and also understands the rules of behavior. This sort of team is absolutely inappropriate for product development. It works very well in manufacturing, but is wrong for product development.

The other two types of teams are deployed in the timeboxing system and are appropriate for product development. Timeboxing system is lead by two leaders. One is responsible for the priority of the work being done. The second individual is responsible for making sure the work actually flows. These two individuals have each other’s back. If one for any reason can’t fulfill their responsibilities, for instance if they’re going to visit a customer, the other person rushes in a takes their palace. Not dissimilar to what a tennis doubles partner would do.

The real important team in a time box system is the execution team — the development team. The individuals work as a unit. They move through the work together like a soccer team moving down the field. In our observation, as we’ve put together development teams together in timeboxing, we’ve seen a collaboration starting almost immediately. One of the behaviors in the time box system is dialogue. This dialoguing leads to a shared understanding of the work and a shared vision of how it’s going to be executed. You gain the benefit of mutual mentoring inside of timeboxing where the knowledge of any individual is shared with the team and people inherently learn from each other.

Finally, as we said, there’s a correlation between team behaviors and quality. Not only is the inherent value there, but the commitment to quality actually rises in a team as they move through the time box system. Teams in timeboxing are true teams and gain all of the benefits of team behavior. Benefits that we tend to throw away through our use of nominal teams most frequently used in product development.

That’s one benefit of the timeboxing system. In the next post we’re going to talk about another benefit, which is the benefit that comes from the natural work and process limitations imposed by the time box so that the work being executed and the capacity of the team to execute the work are perfectly matched.


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