Updated: Jan 16
First and foremost, when we talk about an 'effective team' we need to have an aligned understanding about the term 'team'. I have seen and heard people using it in so many ways up until calling the whole organization a team. That is an exaggeration. When I think 'team' I understand the following:
relatively small group of people working together towards a common goal. They are dependent on one another to achieve that goal. Like a football (soccer) team.
Of course, in the world of business other than football we see a lot bigger groups of people working together. Does that make them a team? Maybe. Probably depends on the shared understanding of a common goal. Even if it is obvious and clear to all and everyone really tries working together (a big team), most aspects of this collaboration (psychological safety, communication, planning, coordination, etc.) become very complicated not to mention complex. There are ways how to overcome it by organizing people into smaller teams, but that is not the focus of this writing. Instead, it is on the soft part of the challenge - people behavior, interpersonal dynamics, team development and everything in between in a single team. Behavior has a tendency to spread, interpersonal dynamics is difficult to grasp not to mention trying to control it and team development is almost a science itself. In my view, what is going on in a single team is also happening in many teams at scale.
The video above is just one popular observation from a real life how people's behavior attract others and make them follow one another and act similarly. This is how cultures form and evolve. This is why different organizations, using the same frameworks (for example Scrum, Scrum@Scale, LeSS and you add yours) and tools look, sound, act and succeed differently.
With this article I invite you to look at a good, old, seemingly forgotten 'effective team' in a bit different light and combination that in my opinion is an underestimated enabler of organization's ability to be truly agile, resilient and survive that goes beyond much younger topics like Agile, Scrum, and scaling.
Depending on the language (in English there are three similar words: efficacy, efficiency and effectiveness) we can understand different things with the word 'effectiveness'. For example, in my native language there is only one: efektivitāte and all three English words translate the same. This article is in English and most readers and very many teams and organizations understand it, therefore the focus is on the English language. This article very well explains the relationship among the three terms in the context of COVID-19 and I am using it as frame of reference for the further writing.
Let's adapt the above article's definitions to the world of teams. While doing so let's also keep in mind the Cynefin framework. The table below summarizes the adaptation of each part of a total or holistic effectiveness (efficacy + efficiency + relationships) with the key question that it asks and main comments in the context of the afore mentioned Cynefin framework.
Do we have a team that can work towards a common goal?
How well a team is performing (technology, process) while working towards a common goal?
How well a team is interacting? (dynamics, safety, climate) while working towards a common goal?
Easy to see, clear, yes and no answers. The basics. Hiring problem. When demand exceeds supply, can be chaotic.
Needs to be measured, assessed, managed. Missing skill/setup gap can be taught, learned. Process side of well known frameworks & approaches. Complicated.
Needs to be measured, assessed, observed, coached, facilitated, moderated, guided, led. Interaction side of well known frameworks & approaches. Complex.
What does that mean in practice?
As long as it is a team where people need to interact and depend on one another to achieve a common goal, total or holistic effectiveness needs to be evaluated in the direction from the most complex part - 'relationships' towards the clearest part - team forming (hiring). We know that hiring is not that clear and simple at all and good, smart hiring is invaluable investment into the future of an organization, but that is not the point here. The point is that hiring or team forming is relatively less dynamic and seldom activity compared to what happens in the teams daily. Even if team members were hired in the best possible way back then what happens today happens today and now in this moment. To become and stay effective daily, a close support is required for the team in the form of leading and managing that includes a variety of competencies like facilitation, coaching and more. Someone has to be there who focuses on the interaction of people daily. That someone focuses and sees things that team itself is simply not seeing as their focus is different.
The middle part from the table - 'efficiency' - is the next piece of the puzzle. And this is where things are complicated and complex at the same time. How's that? The use of technology and processes impacts how people need to interact and their interaction impacts how technology and processes are used. It is like a self-balancing feedback loop where one feeds the other continuously. Let's look at an example:
A well known Daily Scrum event (the 15 min thing) in Scrum. From the perspective of a process it is a simple thing - come together every day, share, clarify, sync, dismiss. From the interaction perspective it is often quite the opposite to simple. For instance, yesterday all came, shared, clarified, synced. Today, someone did not come or someone was in the wrong mood or someone else joined the Daily Scrum who is not supposed to. As a result, syncing did not quite happen as process told the team to dismiss in 15 or team extended the event into 30 min and all dismissed with questions on their faces...
The team's dynamic is different every day. It is much faster than any "agreed" process that always stays behind. Yes, team can learn to be more adaptive and resilient, adapt the process faster, but it takes conscious effort, time and is hard work. Often a team coach is required to foster that team development to happen, similarly like in the 'relationships' part.
The last part - 'efficacy' - is the clearest in a way and very important. Without people and team there is simply no 'efficiency' and 'relationships' possible or we cannot really talk about those. Put other way, in chaotic circumstances where people are shuffled almost daily or the amount of work that is pushed into the team is so high relative to the amount of people that there's simply no time and energy to establish any good work processes and practices so team can start being 'efficient' and pay attention to their 'relationships'.
Now, after having read so far - what do you think:
Are you an effective team?
If in doubt why don't you check? We at https://www.ivopeksens.com/ have developed a holistic team effectiveness assessment, called TEA - Team Effectiveness Assessment that allows assessing a team in all three parts (efficacy, efficiency, relationships). And there is also a recent addition of LEA - Leadership Effectiveness Assessment that turns these two into a combo. Both of these address a full team system - team itself and its leadership/management. Both also contain few starting questions to get you curious :). You can try them here.