A successful team is defined by their ability to recover after a strike

This post is written by Indra A. Brooks, Agile Team Coach. In this post, she shares her insights on how you can tell if a team truly is a successful team. 

I am often asked to define success for teams. Imagine the shocked looks when I say that success is defined by failure, or rather how failure is handled. For the better part of my career, I have worked in the technology industry. In particular, software developers have a presumably deserved reputation for wanting to work on their own. Headset on, servers in the basement (or now in the cloud), the more isolated the better.

What happens then when you ask individuals to work as a team? To define their daily existence based on what others on the team are doing or need? Can it be done?

Psychological Safety in Agile Teams

We hear a lot of talk about psychological safety in the Agile community. It is like any other buzzword tossed around in a classroom and carried over to the staff meeting. However, it really does have to be implemented and it doesn’t happen overnight.

First, the teams may have to learn a new framework for how they are going to manage their work. Out go the old project management plans that allowed developers to work in a vacuum until a deadline was near. In comes this crazy notion of a daily standup where everyone has to talk, not mumble, to share their status and admit when they need help. Then there is a process where there is a backlog of work for a defined, short amount of time, and nobody is going to tell them straight up which task is theirs. They have to decide and then share. And at the very end, there is a Review. Developers doing this thing called “show and tell” – not unlike that done in primary school – where you taut out your most prized possession and share it. Then there is the added pressure, potentially, of this being a leadership mandate to improve performance.

Trust has to be built

In comes the coach. Trust has to be built. The team has to trust you to guide them through the quagmire of not just talking to their colleagues, but working side by side in this crazy thing called pair programming or work share. They need to know that their voice is heard; that others will listen and take what they are saying on board. They will grow toward self-management and with that comes a lot of pitfalls and roadblocks along the way.

Like bowling pins after a strike

So again, how will we know that the team is successful? Is it when they can execute the Sprints with perfection by perfectly estimating their stories and completing all of them over and over again? No.

Success is defined with how quickly they recognize failure, how they respond to it, and how they handle the next event.

I tell people that watching a team truly fail together is like watching all of the pins at the bowling alley fall down (a strike). It is an amazing thing to watch them all act in concert in response to an action (the bowling ball coming down the lane), but the truly mesmerizing act is watching what happens next. In the case of a team failure, is there an automatic pin reset machine or will they wait from someone to come and stand then back up one by one. A truly successful team has had enough time to build trust in each other and as such will have an automatic pin reset machine where after they all fall down, they are lifted back up again into place and keep going. THIS is success.

This post is written by Indra A. Books. With 25 years of award-winning coaching and leadership experience, Indra has a passion for working with organizations, teams, and individuals to effect meaningful, goal-oriented change grounded in Agile principles. She currently works from Spain to sustainably grow Agile practices around the globe for small to medium-sized businesses that want to make value-based change and see results with high-performing teams.

Photo by Michelle McEwen on Unsplash