Why is teamwork such an important part of the agile value system?
As people work together over time they learn each other’s abilities and communication styles. They learn how to interact with each other in ways that are more productive. Teams develop a culture and establish norms that allow for very efficient communication. They learn to leverage each other’s strengths. Over time, this allows a team to establish predictable throughput and a regular pattern of delivery.
We often underestimate what it takes to bring people into relationship with each other. We seem to think that we can matrix people into teams and expect them to start performing right away. We seem to discount the fact that teams need time to form and get to know each other before they can be productive. We overlook personality and chemistry between team members and expect everyone to operate as if they’ve worked together for years.
The belief that we can breakdown and reform teams on the fly is a belief in local optimization. It is a belief that if we optimize the abilities of the individual through specialization and optimize the process through definition of best practice, people become interchangeable. Aside from the interpersonal issues we’ve just discussed, this has led our industry toward an ever increasing level of resource management, project management, and portfolio management complexity.
Our challenge is that we focus too much of our limited time and energy managing complex resource interdependencies rather than solving our real business problems. Simplifying means we focus less on developing individual specialties and more on the overall capability of the team. To optimize our teams we will have to broaden the teams collective skill. We have to let go of our addiction to individuals with specialized knowledge that become a single points of failure. We need more people that know more things.
This will require courage and a commitment to broadening the skills of our people. It will require a commitment to team building. It will require commitment to the belief that a well functioning team can deliver more than a collection of talented individuals.