Blog & Resources

Breaking the Dysfunctional Team

I recently read the book “The FIVE Dysfunctions of a Team” written by Patrick Lencioni. The author provides insight into the workings of a Team and what has to be done to ensure that the Team works together towards it’s success. In the book, Patrick creates a fictional company and walks you through some very familiar and common dysfunctions that could apply to any team, or for that matter, any relationship. The FIVE Dysfunctions discussed in the book are:

  1. Inattention to Results
  2. Avoidance of Accountability
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Fear of Conflict
  5. Absence of Trust

As I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but tie each of the dysfunctions to a real world example from my own career. I have seen all of these play out in some way and when they did, it didn’t provide for a very productive environment. Imagine working in an environment where everyone worked together towards a common goal? Imagine what that must feel like? “If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time”, say’s a good friend of the author.

That quote got me thinking.

I am working with a few clients now in their transition to an Agile Software Development methodology. This isn’t an easy task and introduces a lot of change to an organization which, for the most part, people try to avoid. The transition to Agile introduces the Team to a new way of thinking about their work and how they work together, and what became crystal clear after ready this book is how well Agile eliminates these FIVE Dysfunctions. Imagine if you could create a company like the one quoted above? Let’s take a closer look.

Absence of Trust

In an Agile environment, the Team works together to leverage everyone’s skills to accomplish the goal of the Monthly Sprint (Iteration) and knows that failing becomes a very public event. The Agile team is fully transparent and you can sense tension or issues from immediately. Since everyone involved (the Team, Product Owner and Scrum Master) created the goal for the Sprint and the Team agreed, or committed, themselves that they could do the work, the sense of meeting the goal is elevated. If someone gets stuck, there is no time to discuss why they are stuck (skill set issue, under estimated, computer issues, etc…). The team pulls together to help each other out so that they can meet the objective and deliver working software that meets the business expectations.

I have personally seen many times a Team new to Agile come together quickly to accomplish what was thought not possible. The level of excitement, awareness and appreciation for one another allows the team to focus the time and energy on the important tasks at hand rather than politics and makes meeting and working together fun.

Fear of Conflict

In an Agile environment, the Team works together to produce working software that meets customer expectations in short intervals. The very nature of building complex software introduces varying opinions and approaches and if not discussed, result in software that will only last a short life span. Healthy debate and discussion is encouraged by the whole team to ensure what is built is functional, but also that it can grow with each iteration. The team needs to be mindful of the future of the product while remaining focused on the task at hand. On an Agile team, there is nothing wrong with having to re-engineer something from a previous release because the agreed upon solution no longer supported the requirements form the business.

Lack of Commitment

In an Agile environment, each Sprint or Iteration begins with a clear Goal as well as a Sprint Backlog detailing tasks that must be completed by the end of an iteration to consider the iteration done and the goal met. The team is aligned to a common goal from the beginning and understands what it will take to get there. The Team and Product Owner meet daily in the Daily Stand up meeting to discuss status and impediments. If a task is unclear, the Product Owner and team member have immediate access to each other to resolve the impediment.

The Sprint Backlog is made visible for all to see and tasks can be added or removed by anyone as long as the Goal of the Sprint is met. Anyone can see who is assigned to a task and their progress and by attending the Daily Stand up, knows how the team member is progressing towards completion. Working closely with the Product owner allows the Team to respond immediately to change and ensures that the final deliverable meets expectations.

Lack of Accountability

In an Agile environment, the Team makes a commitment to each other to accomplish the Sprint Goal. If they fail to meet the goal, they all fail together. The Team is empowered to self-organize to get the work done in the best way possible and has a Scrum Master (Project Manager) to help remove any impediments that arise along the way. The Daily Stand up meeting is unlike a status meeting in that rather than reporting status and impediments to the Project Manager, each Team member reports status and impediments to each other. The Team in affect is micromanaging themselves. At the end of each Sprint, or Iteration, the team holds a Review meeting to demonstrate the functioning software that was completed and to elicit feedback from the Product Owner and other Stakeholders.

Inattention to Results

In an Agile environment, the attention is all about results! While the Team works together to deliver working software at the end of each Sprint or Iteration, they are extremely focused on the Goal of the Sprint. Using the status and impediments communicated by the Team, the Scrum Master uses a Burndown Chart to track progress towards the Sprint goal making the results transparent to everyone. If a task that was expected to take 4 hours is now in it’s 7th hour, everyone knows. If the Sprint Goal can not be met, then the Sprint is terminated and a new one is started from scratch. Every Team member is committed to the Goal and only works on tasks that will help achieve success.

I highly recommend reading Patrick Lencioni’s book and seeing for yourself how he proposes to remove these dysfunctions. It is clear that when teams don’t work together, they won’t achieve great results. What I have found in Agile is that the methodology, by it’s very nature, forces these dysfunctions out of the system and allows everyone to focus on meeting the same goal. It may not happen over night, but a once the team begins to focus on the end result and the best way to achieve that result, they work together and communicate how best to deliver. Communication and Transparency are key to creating a highly functional team as well as having a clearly defined goal. You can have a team of the most talented people in the world and fail if they can’t function as a team towards a common goal.