Real Teams: Fertile ground for agile seeds

Heiko Braun
Feb 13, 2019 · 3 min read
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Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

One element is often forgotten when we think about Agile: You need to build real teams before you can tap into the benefits of agile methods. Teams are at the very core of many methods, and without a real team, your agile adoption will become challenging.

So what’s a team, or more specifically, a real team? Real teams share these characteristics:

  • The people on the team share a purpose, or goal, something they can collectively work towards
  • Teams need a sense of productivity, a way to see how their work contributes to goals of the organisation
  • Team members have complementary skills to reach their goals
  • The people decide on their work agreements, habits and rituals
  • Teams share an identity and history

Teams want to know they make a difference, which is not possible without a common goal. A shared purpose helps the team to see what they do matters. It creates alignment and provides a trajectory. We all crave for purpose as individuals, and it’s no different with teams.

Shared purpose holds the team together, but without a sense of productivity, i.e. ways to see how the teams work contributes to the goals, work can become delusional. Without feedback loops, a team might feel that they never get anything done or their work is irrelevant, which can take the team down (Hughes & Terrell, 2011).

Complementary skills are needed to complete work. The more complementary team member skills are, the fewer the outward dependencies exist. Managing outward dependencies is necessary for any team in larger organisations, and fewer dependencies increase the autonomy and flexibility of decision making and execution within the team.

Team members on a real team decide how to work together, “they choose methods that fit the work and the goal.” (Derby, 2017). Don’t confuse this with anarchy. Teams exist within a larger social construct that defines constraints, but teams need the freedom to unfold their creativity within these bounds.

It takes time for teams to get to know each other, build rapport and establish working agreements. Changing teams too frequently takes away the opportunity for the team to arrive at real teamwork and recognise what the team is capable of (Tuckman, 1965).

Some of us might be in the fortunate situation to have real teams in place before we hop onto the agile journey, but I believe in many organisations this work needs to happen in parallel to adopting agile practices.

This raises two interesting questions:

  • Is the lack of real teams one of the reasons why many agile methods are seemingly simple to adopt, but hard to master?
  • What does it take to turn groups of individuals into real teams?

These are big questions that we need to explore in another article.


Tuckman, Bruce W (1965). “Developmental sequence in small groups”. Psychological Bulletin. 63 (6): 384–399.

Derby, E. (2017). How To Build A Team — esther derby associates. Online available at: Accessed 13 Feb. 2019 .

Hughes, M. and Terrell, J.B., 2011. The emotionally intelligent team: understanding and developing the behaviors of success. John Wiley & Sons.

Software Engineering Research: Theory Informed Practice

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