Agility is Team Sport

The end of the year is the time of appraisal interviews. Usually the performance of the individual is evaluated. However, the creation of value in organizations and especially in agile teams is actually always the result of teamwork. This focus on individual performance leads to loose groups of mediocre soloists instead of excellent team performance.

Every sin­gle year … the per­for­mance eval­u­a­tion comes down to the employ­ees. Most orga­ni­za­tions know and appre­ci­ate — as the school sys­tem does — only indi­vid­ual per­for­mance. But agili­ty is a team sport. What counts is the per­for­mance of the team. How can indi­vid­ual per­for­mance be assessed then? And should one do so at all?

The Team is Everything

Those who mea­sure indi­vid­ual per­for­mance con­tri­bu­tions and dis­trib­ute vary­ing rewards depend­ing on them, not only receive demon­stra­bly poor­er results for any non-triv­ial task, but also dis­rupt the team struc­ture in par­tic­u­lar. Each team mem­ber is then pri­mar­i­ly con­cerned with his or her own area of respon­si­bil­i­ty. This loose group of mediocre soloists does how­ev­er not make a good orchestra.

Yes, but …

What about “low per­form­ers”? And what about key play­ers? How can the for­mer be pun­ished and the lat­ter reward­ed? The only cor­rect answer to this ques­tion was giv­en a long time ago by Dou­glas McGre­gor: Not at all or at least not for the pur­pose of motivation.

The answer to the ques­tion man­agers so often ask of behav­ioral sci­en­tists „How do you moti­vate peo­ple?“ is, „You don’t.“

Dou­glas McGre­gor, 1966. Lead­er­ship and moti­va­tion: essays

Of course there will be dif­fer­ences in the team. Alone the skills and incli­na­tions of the mem­bers will dif­fer in an agile team. This inter­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty is an essen­tial prin­ci­ple of agili­ty. In a good team, every­one is impor­tant and every­one makes an impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion, but it can­not be com­pared to the con­tri­bu­tions of the others.

Yes, but what if the team does­n’t work so well? Sure: Not all mem­bers will always be able to deliv­er their best per­for­mance. We are all just human beings and have life cir­cum­stances that could inspire or bur­den us. Our day-to-day per­for­mance varies. How­ev­er, if it becomes appar­ent over a longer peri­od of time that peo­ple do not feel com­fort­able in a team and are unable to devel­op their poten­tial, the first thing to do is to find out why. Sim­ply diag­nos­ing and pun­ish­ing “under­per­for­mance” is about as use­ful as shout­ing at the stunt­ed toma­to in the gar­den and cut­ting back on the fertilizer.

Why do you hire dead wood? Or why do you hire live wood and kill it?

Peter Scholtes (1997). The Leader’s Hand­book (S. 331)

Gen­er­al­ly, the prin­ci­ple of self-orga­ni­za­tion of the team also applies in these cas­es. The team rec­og­nizes the inter­fer­ence of the per­for­mance itself best and can address this in an envi­ron­ment of psy­cho­log­i­cal safe­ty, such as in the con­text of a ret­ro­spec­tive and joint­ly search for solu­tions. How­ev­er, to ensure this psy­cho­log­i­cal safe­ty and to enable a con­struc­tive han­dling of the chal­lenge beyond blame, requires an expe­ri­enced Scrum Mas­ter as coach.

As long as you need heroes or cul­prits to explain a sit­u­a­tion con­vinc­ing­ly, you haven’t under­stood it yet.

Ger­hard Wohland

Yes, but the out­stand­ing key play­ers should be reward­ed! In a healthy orga­ni­za­tion, they have hope­ful­ly per­formed well out of joy of achieve­ment and suc­cess of the team and the orga­ni­za­tion. In a healthy cul­ture, they hope­ful­ly received envy-free recog­ni­tion from col­leagues and supe­ri­ors. If, on the oth­er hand, it seems nec­es­sary to reward key play­ers for their per­for­mance, this only masks deep­er-seat­ed prob­lems in the orga­ni­za­tion and its culture.

Yet the Team Is Not Everything

Most orga­ni­za­tions con­sist of more than one team. And the out­put of the orga­ni­za­tion is the result of the suc­cess­ful coop­er­a­tion of the teams. Replac­ing an indi­vid­ual assess­ment with an assess­ment of team per­for­mance alone is there­fore not suf­fi­cient. A team is only a top team if it also takes respon­si­bil­i­ty for the big­ger pic­ture by help­ing oth­er teams and con­tribut­ing to the devel­op­ment of cross-cut­ting con­cerns (e.g. secu­ri­ty, process­es, archi­tec­ture) in com­mu­ni­ties of practice.

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