Dysfunctions of (Agile) Teams

Over the holiday break I read Patrick Lencioni‘s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable“.  The premise is that each dysfunction builds upon the dysfunction before it.  Much like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.   Below is an illustration of the dysfunctions with absence of trust being the building block of dysfunction.

Running multiple organizations and being part of an agile team gives me ample time to see team dynamics and participate in them on a regular basis.  This book really made me think a lot.  The information wasn’t particularly new, but it reminded me that much like agile, leadership of a team can be simple yet insanely difficult at the same time.

Absence of Trust
For some reason most teams think that if they all get along they have some super team work trust going on, but if there is any conflict what so ever that the team is some how not in harmony and that all is wrong with the world.  I remember early variations at Integrum where this certainly was the case.  The truth is that Trust is all about comfort in being vulnerable.  On an agile team this vulnerability is necessary because the only way to continually improve towards excellence is to be honest about your deficiencies.  If someone doesn’t feel they can be open and honest in their weaknesses and mistakes this can never happen.  What is your team doing to build trust and encourage vulnerability?

Fear of Conflict
The biggest smell of a dysfunctional team to me is one that agrees on everything and never has conflict.  Without conflict there are things being left unsaid.  In the end this is just unhealthy.  Willingness to have healthy conflict allows unfiltered and passionate debate about new and innovative ideas.   A good agile team is a “noisy” team.  I think the same goes for pair programming.  If a pair isn’t regularly in heated debate they probably aren’t trying very hard.

Lack of Commitment
I am starting to think that commitment is one of the most powerful words in agile software development.  Healthy teams don’t make excuses.  They don’t blame or shirk responsibility.  The get on the same page and drive towards completing the goal.  Deciding on what to commit to and then measuring to that commitment is key in building a strong team.  I have long thought that accountability was a major problem with no solution, but I am reminded that it’s probably a lack of commitment to blame.

Avoidance of Accountability
This is so so so so difficult.  As calling peers out feels so unnatural.  Who am I to tell you what or how to do something?  What authority do I have over you?  In reality if we have a shared commitment, I am doing both of us a disservice if I don’t speak up and hold you accountable.  It just never feels that way when it’s time to step to the plate and do it.  Recently I was told by someone to RTFM (Read The Fucking Manual) and it kind of stung.  It made me realize that I demand a lot, but at a bare minimum I wasn’t able to perform a basic function of one of the teams goals towards quality.  How embarrassing.  I wasn’t angry.  I was glad.  Their commitment to the goal and trust that I wouldn’t blow up over such a conflict ultimately improved what I was doing.  That’s how agile works right?

Inattention to Results
So often in the past people on our team were driven by ego, career development or recognition.  I childishly called them the “What about me’s?”.    Ultimately the one to blame is not them, but myself.  Failure to give them goals to commit to, left them no choice but to think selfishly.  It’s something that I painfully work on in everything that I am involved in, because frankly it’s hard work.  Guess I need to quit making excuses.

Patrick’s observation in the final summary seemed too fitting for an agile team to not share…
Ironically, teams succeed because they are exceedingly human.  By acknowledging the imperfections of their humanity, members of functional teams overcome the natural tendencies that make trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and a focus on results so elusive.

For the first time I feel like Integrum has a team that is human.  It might just be that we are starting to achieve that right level of imperfection to function as a committed team.  Makes me feel pretty lucky and excited!

Three Reasons Your Ideas Are Failing

If your ideas or products keep failing, perhaps it’s time to stop blaming others and look in the mirror.  I suspect that issue lies in one of the following, if not more than one of them.   I know it always does for me.

  1. Lack of Discipline
  2. Lack of Focus
  3. Lack of Commitment

Thomas Edison, a famous producer of new inventions put it nicely, “Genius is 90 percent perspiration and 10 percent inspiration”.

How often are we inspired by something and a new idea is sparked.  We quickly pursue it and throw something together.  Then 2 weeks later when it’s not the next Twitter we move on to the next thing.  Then six months later someone releases something similar that is well accepted.  We then cry foul and blame it on lack of capital or lack of connections to the correct people.  When in reality we should be blaming our own sorry selves.

Truthfully, the next big thing will be built and brought to market on discipline and focus, sweat and blood.  The sooner we realize this, the sooner we can stop wasting our time on fruitless pursuits and lies the media has us believing.  Instead we can put our focus on the things that will change the world. Our time is already constrained.  Wasting it is simply consuming the most valuable resource we have without any return.

While exploring as many new products as possible is good for discovery, it is not good for producing results.  It is hard to not become distracted in life and lose time that can not be regained.  Boden speaks volumes in saying, “A person needs time, and enormous effort, to amass mental structures and to explore their potential.  It is not always easy.  Even when it is, life has many other attractions.  Only a strong commitment to the domain can prevent something from dissipating their energy on other things.”

So, the next time you start to pursue something ask yourself, Am I committed to this?

When you start to tire of the idea and people are encouraging you to give up, Will you be disciplined enough to stick with it?

When your friends all tweet about that next great event or send you a link to “the next big thing”, Will you have the focus that allows you to filter out signal from noise?

If you can’t say yes to these three questions.  Give up now.  Do not pass go.  Do not collect $200.  You are wasting those around you and your own time.