Is the Team the center of the universe ?

12 May, 2010

Statement for discussion :

The Team should be organized optimally.
The rest of the organization should be adapted to the needs of the Team because the Team is where the real value is created.

This blog is born from an interaction on twitter between me and Pierluigi. Because Twitter is not the easiest place to discuss, the idea is to continue the discussion through comments on this blog. Please feel free to join the discussion ….
Would you agree to organize the organization around the Team ?
Or do you prefer to make sure the Team fits into the organization ?
Does it make sense to state that the Team is the place where the real value is created ?
What are your idea’s ?

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Rahul Agrawal
Rahul Agrawal
12 years ago

I think that there is no single answer to the above. It depends upon what is the nature of the business and what is the goal of the company doing the business.
For a product start up firms, I have experienced that the focus(vision) keeps getting refined and even changes drastically over a period of time. In such cases it is the team where the real value is created. Often such teams are very small and they share a common passion.

Theo Gerrits
Theo Gerrits
12 years ago

This kind of questions and statements (“What is the most important?”, “This or that is the center”, etc.) leads to tunnel vision thinking in my opinion. For example:
– ”The” team presupposes ”one” team (or at least strongly seems to do so). The situation is very different when there are more teams, each with possibly conflicting interests.
– “A [software development] team is doing all the hard work”: True, and yet, not true! If the software development team is not responsible for actually putting the new software into production (which is often the case), we could also have said: “Without the operations (deployment) team the Vision is not realized, so does not generate added value!”
Or, ” Without the business (development) team generating a Vision, nothing of added value will be realized”…
– Comparison with an organism, a body: Without the limbs or hands no physical realization is possible, but this is also true for the head, or the intestines, etc. The whole organism is needed.
Optimization is a key word here. Every organ or part of the body is optimized (enough) for every other part of the body. That’s why the body can function effectively in a changing and even hostile environment. Hey, this sounds familiar 🙂
So, I would like this statemenet better:
“The organization should be adapted to the needs of its teams, so that each part can contribute optimally to the creation of real value.”

Pierluigi Pugliese
12 years ago

I definitely agree with your view: the vision is what the “organisation” needs to provide in order to focus the team towards the *right* software. Organisation is in quotes because I don’t like the term that much, especially in this context: I prefer to talk about individuals who contribute – at various levels – to the development of a vision. I call them Leaders.
Said that, IMO in many organisations management is driven by an agenda that has little to do with business goals and more to do with their own interests and biases: this results in a incoherent vision that does not help the team at all and might possibly damage it.
I suspect the drastic changes of vision Rahul mentioned are in fact due to a vision that is not shared by all the people in the organisation and, as such, it changes as soon as the power structure in the organisation fluctuates a bit.
As per your questions at the beginning of this discussion, I believe the best organisation is an emergent one based on the needs of the developers who build the products. During their retrospectives they should keep identifying organisational issues that are not allowing them to proceed at the speed they could. An effective leadership will find a way to support them by organising around them.
Said this, in reality there are several constraints that might make this ideal case not implementable: availability of expertise, different sites, different needs of the products, … so what is the best practical setup a company can achieve? I have no definitive answers, but in my experience it often passes through a very creative way to work around the limitations.
About whether the team is the place where real value is added, I have my difficulty in accepting it like that: I saw very skilled teams failing because of a lack of vision, so if a vision makes the difference, it must add real value, somehow!

Rahul Agrawal
Rahul Agrawal
12 years ago

Geert Bossuyt Says:
Posted at: May 13, 2010 at 10:52 pm
Hi Rahul,
Could you give some examples of what the vision was and what it changed to ? This fascinates me.
Greert : In our case, we had a vision to built a product , an xml appliance for content based routing. However after we worked for around 12-18 months, we started getting feedback and found that what most of the people were interested in was more of API management. With the cloud picking up, the whole strategy for virtualization had to be re designed.
I wish this blog had a way to track comments, that makes notification easier and helps to respond faster.

Bossuyt Geert
12 years ago

Do I understand you correctly that this vision in your example also includes what needed to be build ?
When thinking of a ‘vision’ I try to think in terms of what business need needs to be fulfilled and what business goals need to be achieved.
Off course, building for 12-18 months before getting feedback is always an issue.
A vision can only help you focus on something if there is the opportunity to learn from what you’ve build and whether it leads to the implementation of this vision.

Pierluigi Pugliese
12 years ago

While in the typical scenario a vision is kept ignited by somebody supporting it – the leader – it does not necessarily have to be like that. I have by now several examples of teams giving themselves a vision and transforming it into a product. This does not mean that everybody drives towards the vision with the same energy, but the level of understanding and the way it came out of the team is such that I could not find out a clear leader.
IMO a vision is the set of values and objectives around which the team build its identity. I wrote “somehow” because this catalysing effect of the vision on the identity seems to me to be an emergent process and, as such, unpredictable. A leader – a visionary – is often a vehicle for this, but there seems to be other options as well. “Somehow” the vision supports the building of a team identity, and the team identity is one characteristic of high performance teams, so the vision is indeed adding value. The link is hard to follow, though.
A change of vision after some time is possible and needed and I would be surprised if it does *not* happen – are we reacting to change or following a plan? 🙂 -. From your description it sounds like this change happened really suddenly and this suggests to me nobody retrospected on the vision over time and adapted it to the new scenario. On the top of that, I believe in your case it was not only the vision that needed retrospective, but also the more granular levels of planning: what can you do to get feedback early?
One of my most useful metaphors is to think agile as the art of seeding the right feedback loops in an organisation and it seems to me you’re missing some…

Theo Gerrits
Theo Gerrits
11 years ago

IMO feedback loops are indeed a very important part of agile thinking and working. We’re entering quite philosophical terrain here, but compare with the classic book “Gödel, Escher, Bach” by Douglas Hofstadter: this book discusses several types of feedback loops, recursion and self-reference and ultimately links this to cognition and intelligence.
I think that Hofstadter is of the opinion that ”Soul” emerges from a sufficient number of such structures. So, maybe the fine-tuned collaboration of team members in a team or on the larger scale teams and management in the organization, leads to something like an ”organizational soul”: something about the organization that feels just right, and makes (or seems to make) it working smoothly.
In this view it isn’t even possible to exactly distinguish between “the vision being the set of values and objectives” and “the vision emerging out of the (evolving) set of values and objectives”.
Also, maybe a “sudden” change in vision is a signal that “organizational soul” has not matured yet.
@Rahul: I’m seeing a checkbox at the bottom of this page that you can check if you want to receive notifications. I don’t know whether this is a recent addition, but this seems to be what you were looking for.
Greetings, Theo

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