How Scrum builds effective teams
by Christian Wikander 2020-03-06
For more than ten years I have been interested in team dynamics. Seven years ago I was introduced to Scrum and have since used it to build a number of teams. I would consider quite a few of them to be effective.
While I’ve had the knowledge about both effective teams and scrum for quite some time, I have not considered how they actually interact, not until I attended the event “How to build the best team” at Minc, cooperation with Psykologpartners.
During the event Psykologpartners among others talked about a study by Google which outlines The 5 dynamics of an effective team.
I suddenly realized exactly how some of my scrum habits actually built my teams. It’s not a coincidence. Scrum builds effective teams!
The 5 dynamics of an effective team
According to Google, effective teams have the following five dynamics (1):
- Psychological safety: This was the single most important dynamic in an effective team. Psychological safety is about risk-taking and being comfortable with vulnerability. People who don’t feel psychologically safe worry that taking risks will mean they’re seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative or disruptive. Psychological safety means feeling confident about admitting mistakes, asking questions, or offering new ideas.
- Dependability: On dependable teams, members reliably complete quality work on time. They don’t avoid their responsibilities and they take them seriously, helping to keep the team on track. As simple as it sounds, this turned out to be vital for effectiveness in teams.
- Structure and Clarity: This means that a team has clear roles, goals and plans. Individuals understand what’s expected of them, what they and their team is aiming for and how they are all going to get there. Google often uses Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to help set and communicate specific, challenging and attainable short- and long-term goals, at an individual and at a group level.
- Meaning: For individuals on a team, finding a sense of purpose in their work or its output is vitally important for team effectiveness. That meaning is personal, so it varies from person to person, but might include financial security, their ability to support their family, their commitment to the success of the team, or their individual self-expression.
- Impact: Do you fundamentally believe that the work you do makes a difference? This subjective judgment marks out the most effective teams and can be based on seeing how one’s work contributes to an organization’s goals and what it has helped to change.
How Scrum helps
Below is a simple diagram outlining a sprint in the Scrum Framework. The sprint is typically two weeks long. What I have realized is that if you just take care of your Scrum process you will get positive effects when it comes to team performance.
The Product Backlog helps describe the Meaning of the team and to some extent also the Impact.
Keep your Product Backlog in good shape and make sure it’s known by the team. While not mentioned in the Scrum Framework it’s a good habit to have a meeting in the middle of every Sprint to go over the backlog, discuss new backlog items, adjust story points etc.
Make sure you backlogs are containing User Stories. They help the team focus on when and why a function will be used which has a connection to the Meaning and Impact of what we’re doing.
Sprint Planning, Sprint Backlog, Increment and Sprint Retrospective
Scrum is set up to deliver value iteratively. By biasing your Sprint Planning and Sprint Retrospective towards becoming more and more predictable you help your Dependability as well as Structure and Clarity.
I tend to treat the Sprint Backlog as a firm commitment, i.e. we should do all we can to deliver on these promises. If we fail we should make sure we don’t do the same mistake again by analyzing the problem during our Sprint Retrospect and take action.
Focusing on what we can finish rather than what we can start might also be helpful when trying to become more predictable.
Done right, our Daily Scrum will help a lot towards Psychological safety as well as Dependability. We typically build Psychological safety by showing that we are vulnerable. Admit that you’ve done a mistake, ask for help etc. In a safe environment your friends in the team will rush to support.
Sometimes the Daily Scrum becomes more of a meeting where people report what they have been doing. This is encouraged by project managers that want to know the status of the sprint. Usually though the things that have not been done are much more important than what has been done.
Encourage team members that have problems with their task to reach out for help and make sure that there is someone to help when they do so. A good tell is when a high priority task has been sitting in the same column for several days. Make sure that the team understands that it’s good to reveal mistakes and problems. Knowing early means that the entire team can do something about it.
Sometimes it helps to do a short vote on how likely it is that we will finish everything on the Sprint Backlog in time. This can be done using a 0-100% gauge or similar. Have the team discuss the right level of the gauge, if the value is low we should asses why and take actions to raise it.
As you can see, Scrum supports building effective teams quite well. By just sticking to some of the Scrum Events and Artifacts your team will evolve towards being more effective.
This however doesn’t mean that Scrum is a silver bullet for effective teams. Among others Scrum is focused on teams while Google also talks about personal motivation.
This article is written by Christian Wikander. Christian is a senior Project Manager and Team Builder with long experience of establishing new ways of working in large organizations. Right now, he is assigned to one of Advicon’s clients as Process Manager. More about Christian…