Building great teams

Join Murray Robinson and Shane Gibson in a conversation with Sandy Mamoli about building great teams. Why do some teams perform well and others perform poorly. The importance of skill, trust, respect, collaboration common purpose, constructive feedback and  continuous improvement. How to deal with toxic experts and charming slackers in the team. The benefits of allowing people to choose their own teams. How to run a self selection event. Coaching managers to improve the system the team is working in. Allowing teams to select their own managers. The poor state of Agile and the problem with SAFE.

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Podcast Transcript

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 Shane: Welcome to the no nonsense agile podcast. I’m Shane Gibson. 

Murray: And I’m Murray Robinson. 

Sandy: I am Sandy Mamoli 

Murray: hi, Sandy. Thanks for coming on. So we wanted to talk about creating great teams with you today. Why don’t we start by getting you to tell Lee listeners who you are and what your background. 

Sandy: Sure I am currently in my third career. I started out as a professional athlete and then at the tender age of, 30, I needed to grow up. Went to uni and got a master’s degree in artificial intelligence, which, threw me into, , becoming a software developer, which I did for a few years.

And, then I moved to New Zealand from Scandinavia and, having been working an agile way for a several years at the time already, I decided I would not give up this way of working and , started coaching agile teams in New Zealand. And I’ve done that for about 15 years now.

Murray: What was so good about agile ways of working that you didn’t want to give it up? 

Sandy: I did not really have lots of experience with waterfall moving to New Zealand. And, I joined the first company here and I was in shock and I was in shock about how much people would tell other people what to do. I was in that shock about this whole idea of change requests, about how little I got to talk to a customer and how I actually had to work without a team I had just to do my part and then handed over to someone else. So it felt really intuitively absolutely wrong to me. And that’s why I decided I do not want to work this way. This is bizarre.

Murray: Yeah, I think that’s common for a lot of us. Who’ve worked in a good agile team that we just never wanna go back. Cause everything’s so much worse after that.

Sandy: Completely agree with you. Once you have really experienced it and you can’t explain it once you have experienced it, you are chasing this feeling of being part of this amazing team for the rest of your life.

Murray: So you, wrote a book called creating great teams. And I’m wondering if we can start by asking you what is the problem? What do we see typically in teams? Are most teams not performing and what are the main reasons why. 

Sandy: That is an incredibly big question. My background is professional team sports. So I have experienced what it’s like to be in a high performing team. And I’ve experienced how magic happens when people really collaborate. And then chasing this feeling in software development teams and some of them are absolutely amazing, but then there are things that I will be missing, which are teams stuck in a system where they’re being taught what to do, teams that do not have a compelling, shared purpose of goal. So everyone just focuses on the part that they want to do and don’t really care about what other people do. If you take Daniel Pink’s autonomy, mastery and purpose I see problems with purpose. People don’t really know why they’re on the team and what the whole goal is.

I don’t see that many problems with mastery people actually quite good, but I do see a huge problem with autonomy and to me allowing people to choose the team they’re work in and creating the team that way they wanted is the ultimate autonomy. And also the ultimate way create a team that performs well.

Murray: So is this similar to the five dysfunctions Of a team? 

Sandy: Similar to that. And I do love that book and I think Patrick Lencioni is a genius. I found this book really helpful because there’s research behind what makes team perform and what a well performing team looks like and what the conditions are to make a team peform well. I think it starts, whether can you actually be a team. If you have 18 people and they don’t have all the skills they need, they don’t have a compelling purpose. The team is too big, or people are on more than one team. Then I think you will struggle. In order to have a team trust each other, you need to, have the condition and the environment where you can make that happen. Meaning a small team with a shared purpose.

Shane: We see teams being put together by their managers and that makes ’em a team somehow. Whereas actually, that doesn’t mean they’re a team. They don’t have a shared purpose. They may not be doing the same work. They may not have picked each other as teammates. They may not actually want to work together. And therefore they’re starting from a horrible position because somebody’s put a box around them and put the word team on it where none of the team behaviors have been thought about, or done right at the beginning.

Sandy: Yes, absolutely. And it’s not the, as Esther Derby calls, the you and you method of selecting a team. It’s just based on who happens to be free and available. We take those people and throw them in a room. We go, you are a team now without giving them a purpose, giving them support.

And I find very often that goes, totally wrong. And just to add to that, there’s a lot of focus on psychological safety and I love that, but I also think there’s a lot of misunderstanding around psychological safety, because it doesn’t mean that we are all super nice to each other and feel comfortable all the time. So one of the main dysfunctions I see is that people don’t reach the stage where. Can hold each other accountable where they can give each other direct feedback of, this is what I need from you, or you are not doing, as you said, you are going to do, those are conversations that need to be safe to have had. And that is what I think we need to remember. Psychological safety really means.

Murray: Lancioni only talks about absence of trust as being foundational thing. But then the next thing up is fear of conflict and artificial harmony. I’ve had that experience with, a team that was made up about 50% of people from a service provider that were in a developing country. They would not say anything in retrospectives or standups or make any suggestions. We knew that they were having serious problems cause they weren’t producing anything. And we’d say, are you having any problems? And the most senior person would just say, no, no problem. So we couldn’t get anywhere with them because they were afraid of conflict, afraid of raising issues with us. Have you had that experience?

Sandy: Oh yeah, totally had that experience. I used to work with Sony Erickson in, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Stockholm, and a team in India. And, we had exactly the same experience. People would go, production is down. Anyone would go, I didn’t touch anything. I didn’t do it. Didn’t do anything. And we go We can see, to commit lock that you were doing something over there. No note didn’t do anything. Whereas all us Europeans were going. I did something over there. It could be related to this. It could be me and just fault finding to fix something. And our reaction was anger. Why are you doing this? What is wrong with you until we learned to have empathy? And what we learned was that, for us, it was entirely safe to go, Hey, I just brought production down. I’m sorry. And help and bring it back up. Whereas for the person, who worked for major service provide in India, they got fired. If they publicly admitted to a mistake that had severe consequences. So I’ve learned to have a lot of empathy with people not admitting mistakes, if they are in a very different context. It took a really long time and repeated experience of, no punishment for mistakes to build a team out of people, whether that , safety is not there. 

Shane: So previous podcasts we did, we talked about this idea of working with people outside your organization to get some work done. And one of the key themes that came out of that was this idea of a shared goal. That if the people were working for a different organization, they are typically incented by their organizations goals, which may or may not be aligned with your team’s goals. And that makes it really difficult because they have two masters. They have the goal the team they’re working with to try and get something done. And then they have the goal of their organization, which typically is around money. Have you ever seen a solution to it? Is there a way of breaching that gap between two sets of goals they’re striving for, and they may be at conflict.

Sandy: Several things that pop to mind. And the first one is that it is not just in Outsource teams. I’ve also seen that in local organizations when people are on an agile team, but at the same time, say, they’re test managers interfering to right test place in a particular way. And if the conflict is that acute people will always go for what is best for themselves to retain their job, to get their bonus, to advance in their careers. And I have never seen how that can work to have such conflict Have you ever seen a solution to that while keeping the conflicting goals?

Shane: No. Sometimes fact that there’s conflicting goals gets hidden and we get lip service. It looks like we have a shared goal, but the behavior becomes different, so it’s subversive, which I think’s worse than being upfront. Unless we go to that shared goal, we end up not having a team. We have two teams and then we deal with it as a handoff problem. Which, I don’t like, but if we say they’re working in a handoff situation, at least that way we can focus on the handoffs. We know that’s the area constraint. So let’s just focus on that not worry about actually having a single goal. 

Murray: I have seen a solution. By redesigning the engagement as the client. You can bring the suppliers, staff into your team as capped time and materials and make them team members and treat them as part of your team. So then service provider meet their goal of revenue and you are able to get them to focus on your goal, whatever that is, but there still can be severe problems with trust and refusing to discuss issues, even in that situation, fear of conflict, still lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and so on.

Sandy: I completely agree. I’m currently working in a context where there are two teams that are a mix of client and vendor, that’s working really great. There is trust there is a shared goal and there is commitment. What it did need though, was that someone took away the conflicted goals. 

Murray: Yeah. What does a great team look and feel like in your experience? 

Sandy: Great question. There are so many things around that. So first of all, they enjoy working with each other. They bounce off each other. They are feeling safe with each other. They respect each other. They all want to work together. Doesn’t mean they need to be friends, but they need to want to work together. There is banter there’s constructive criticism. There is constructive feedback and there is no sugar coating or politeness. ITs people who are honest, frank direct with each other. And they have clarity and also desire to reach a goal together so they can overcome any differences they might have because that shared goal is simply more important.

Murray: How do we measure that though? Cause that sounds like a set of, value judgements, from an expert. I’ve been in one, this is like one I’ve seen before, but are there ways of measuring it? 

Sandy: There’s no one absolute way of measuring it out. But what we can do is triangulate to an idea of how a team is doing. And I quite like Amy Edmondson’s psychological safety assessment. I like team health checks that are not just around process but about how they feel. They work as a team. I also like comparison between teams. If I compare to being an athlete, in order to get inspired and see what is possible. I need to see what other people do. I need to see other teams and think, wow, they’re performing really well. Those are the things they do. And sometimes I need to realize I’m great here, we have some shortcomings over there. And just knowing where you stand can be super useful to, compare without judging. We go around and visit other companies. We have lean coffees with people who come from other teams and we ask them questions to get comparison, see how, where we stand and what we can learn from others. And I don’t think there’s anything bad realizing that, Hey, we are, an intermediate team and, the pro teams are over there and here’s a list of things that we could learn.

Shane: I often see two events happen that made the team form and start to get that team behavior. And one of those is some form of existential threat and the team then gel to fend that threat off, and I start seeing some good team behavior. The other one is, that sense of competition against other teams? Sometimes done well, it’s a polite, friendly competition sometimes not so well. But again, that sense of competition seems to make the team form and drill together a lot faster than if neither of those events happened. Is that what you’ve seen? 

Sandy: Absolutely. especially friendly competition. Done well, it can be inspiring and it can be helpful for performance and it can be absolutely enjoyable.

Murray: I wonder though, can you have a really good team if everybody is a novice, but they have all of the other characteristics, they have the behavior, but they don’t have the skills.

Sandy: I think absolutely not. If you don’t have the skills, there’s no process. There’s no behavior. There’s no team spirit that can completely eliminate that problem. If you have the behaviors over time, it will make it possible to learn. So over time it will be possible to succeed. I have seen this really amazing thing at, a Wellington company named snapper where they say we have got a very young team. Nobody knows anything about service design. In fact, nobody in the company knows very much. The five of you, you got, two weeks go away as a team, learn anything you can about service design report back. So that would be a team with the behaviors currently lacking some skills being sent out to acquire the skills. They’re a good team and I think they will become a great team skills wise. Are they gonna perform on day one? No, but after a while they will. And they do. And they did.

Murray: What about the opposite scenario? Then you’ve got a team of individual experts who don’t have those behaviors. They don’t trust each other. They have fear of conflict and so on. Can they be a high performing team?

Shane: So Barry you mean a team of talented assholes, right? It’s yeah. Thank you.

Murray: Competing with each other.

Sandy: I think we’ve all experienced that. And I was so glad we know Bob Sutton wrote his book called the no asshole rule. because I’ve always had this feeling that doesn’t pay off to have a toxic person on the team. We should stop catering to the diva. It’s a really bad idea. And when his book came up that showed the cost of one toxic person on a team and that our intuition was right. Don’t cater to the asshole hero. 

Shane: How do you deal with that? So when I start working with a new team I have a conversation with the leader of the team and also the team themselves to say, look, you’ve been put in this place where you’re gonna try and adopt an agile way of working. Often the team have been told that you’re gonna go through this change.

They haven’t self-selected for it to happen. And so the conversation I had with them is look at some stage, you may decide this isn’t right for you. Give it time. Give it a go. But if you decide you don’t actually wanna work this way, then the organization has an obligation to help you find something that fits the way you wanna work.

And that’s okay. You’re gonna, what I could say is you’re gonna vote yourself off the island and that’s okay, right? You don’t have to work this way. It’s your choice about your life. But the opposite one is where you have that talented, a asshole that, really the team starting to feel that, the person is toxic and they’re not helping the team become a team.

Have you seen, what’s the ways you’ve seen the team or the leadership deal with that problem. What’s a successful and respectful way of dealing with that, effectively voting them off the island.

Sandy: yeah, I think the talented asshole is not always a personality problem. I think those are behaviors. And I wanna put my hand up to sometimes have sometimes, have I been that asshole? Dunno how talented, but I’ve definitely behaved in a way that was not good for a team. And that was because I didn’t see it.

I didn’t lack perspective. In some situations I had a knee jerk reaction and so this is behavior, not personality. In my case, I hope and behavior can be changed so we can work on changing behavior. We can I usually start up gently, cuz it’s harder to come back. If you start out hard and then pull back.

But I start up gently. If that doesn’t work, I will go harder and harder. And also having. Conflict having a heart conversation. I would also have other people have heart conversations with them to make them understand. And after a while, if nothing has worked and the person really does not work, want to work in this way, that is okay.

And as you say, I like your way of doing this. Hey, do you want to vote yourself off the island? Absolutely. I’ve also removed people by I’m telling people management, like this is your pilot agile team. You have this person they’re toxic. If you want this to succeed, you’re gonna remove that person.

That has sometimes ended really well. The person got removed. The person ended up on some other waterfall project, basically had to go back to the old world, came back three months later and credit to them and went, wow, I had forgotten what it’s like, can I come back? Because I think this is, this could actually be way better.

And that guy has been in an agile role for 14 years now and also never wants to go back. So I think there is sometimes a behavior that is different from the personality and people change their behaviors in a team.

Murray: Yeah, I think so too. I think that some people are just assholes. You’ve got narcissistic control, freaks and people with personality problems, but a lot of people just are not aware of the impact on others. And if you can point it out to them and most importantly, explain a better approach, then I think that’s quite helpful.

I, I, about 25 years ago, I got quite a lot of criticism as a young project manager about my approach. Cause I was very task oriented. Very goal oriented. Very hard working and driven. And I was like that with other people too. And I got given some pretty harsh feedback, but the problem was that I wasn’t given any solutions.

I was just given, you should have better relationships with people. You need to get on, better with people and that’s not helpful at all. It’s one thing to, to point out the problems. But I think, like with giving feedback, you need to be clear and specific and don’t make it about their personality, make it about their behavior. That’s my feelings. What are your thoughts on how to give good feedback to people in those situations?

Sandy: I think what you just said is brilliant. It’s the differentiate between the behavior and the person give feedback on the behavior and tell them what’s what be useful instead. And not just go, Hey you should have been relationships, but those are the things you do. This is the impact. And how about you do this other thing instead?

And I really don’t believe in the whole like ship sandwich and wrapping feedback and how to deliver it. What I think is important is that pick the right time and the right person ask if you can give feedback. But make sure you get the chance at some point and then be honest, be upfront.

Shane: Yeah. One of The things I found right at the beginning of my journey was we lost this idea of pastoral care. Techniques I found really useful was doing the team charter, using a technique called this person, that person.

So two parts of a page or a mirror board and writing down the behaviors that they would like to see in the team. So we call that this person and all of the behaviors that they wouldn’t like to see, and we call that, that person. So you knows. Typical turning up late, talking over top of people, those kind of things.

And what I found is by having that available for the team, they could point to those behaviors and have a polite conversation with somebody saying, Hey, you’re being that person. And they’re not the person effectively. I learned learnt by mistake to do that early.

So one of the teams, we didn’t do that. And then when the problem happened, we then had to do that, this person, that person exercised, but it was very clear why we were doing it right. And then became personal because we really were doing it because a person was behaving in a way the team didn’t like. And so it was so obvious. So I’ve learned , to do that exercise early in the team forming process, and then they can use it. 

But coming back to that pastoral care, do you find that a lot of the teams start off on their agile journey and then they get into almost factory behavior and it’s all around the tasks and the work to be done. Cause, often, the problems are generated outside of the team, they have something going on their life, that’s causing them a problem. And then we see that behavior, come into their work. So have you seen that loss of pastoral care of the people, as part of this agile adoption. 

Sandy: I think actually the other way around, I have seen more pastoral care especially in the last three years, I’m currently working on a talk that’s leadership with empathy. I talked to leaders and how they have experienced the last years in terms of pastoral care. And one of the things they said was that people have become more fragile. People are more in need of pastoral care. Someone has compared it a bit with people treating their employer, like the 1950s husband. Providing financial security, providing emotional security, providing wellness and providing a social life. So I think the last three years have seen, a lot more pastoral care and I think that is really, really, really good. And some cases we might even be overdoing it or maybe it’s just, we also need make sure that our leaders have some pastoral care and we have some empathy with them. 

Murray: I wanted to ask you about what you would do with some other common types of individual performance issues. So another common one I see is the charming slacker. So this is the person in the group that everybody likes, but it never gets anything done and spending all of their time talking to other people and is focused on people, not the task. What do you do in that situation?

Sandy: It’s such a common type, the laser slacker, charming pretending to work, but actually just not doing anything. I think they’re really hard to deal with because other people like them, many other people don’t see the problem.

And, if it has an impact on the team, I will have that conversation without trying to, recruit other team members to gang up on that person. Cause I think that is bad. But having that conversation and sometimes I. Just sacrifice a little bit of team performance. If the damage of kicking that person out ultimately would be greater than that hit on team performance. Because sometimes I think that lazy slacker has other qualities where they’re immensely important for the team and just keeping the spirit up directing the team and, making a huge difference for team cohesion. So I trying to find a balance between when is damaging to have a deep weight on a team versus is this really deep weight or is just people who have different qualities.

Murray: We’ve been talking about individuals, and what you might do as a manager, but whose responsibility is it? Is it really the manager’s responsibility? What about the team members themselves?

Sandy: I would say any good team would regulate most of that behavior and have that conversation with each other. That is what, a team that is driven that has psychological safety would do. And personally, I hate this other person is not performing or this other person is doing something I don’t like. I need to escalate it to my manager. And when people come to me with that, the first thing is okay, what have you tried to solve this? Have you taught the person? I think going outside the team is the last result? 

Murray: You’ve written quite a lot about, teams taking control of their own structure and destiny. Haven’t you? So team self selection and so on. Cuz it’s not very common. 

Sandy: The premise is that people do the best work if they can choose who they work with and what they work on. If you choose a team that has a particular purpose, you can choose into that purpose. And you can take responsibility to make sure that you all have, the skills that are necessary and that you actually want work together. I find that people get this right, because they are the ones who have the information about what they want to do and who they want to work with. 

Murray: Should you choose your own manager? 

Sandy: I. actually think so. I don’t think it is always, possibly in all organizations, I was hesitating because I need to define what the role of the manager is. First, if the manager is the person who, takes care of you, both pastoral care and also helps you making career decisions who, coaches you, or you can bounce off ideas then I think absolutely. It’s like choosing your coach. You should choose your own manager,

Murray: And does sports teams choose their own captains? 

Sandy: Some of them. But no, they don’t. But you do choosing a coach. Because you have several elite offers. And You go what’s the coach where I can learn the most. You choose because that coach is coaching this particular team and that coach’s work class so I can learn a lot. So in a way, yes.

Shane: So originally my thoughts always we’re don’t break the team up. So team form, they get a way of working. They get to a level of velocity that is reasonable and they just get good at delivering and, we break them up at the risk of breaking that behavior and that pattern and that success. But then over time, the team gets stale. They get into a, factory behavior and, it’s not enjoyable for them. Have you found that breaking and reforming of teams is beneficial or is it better to keep them together? 

Sandy: I think giving them a choice is good. What I find in any software development team, if they don’t get new impulses, they get stale and performance stagnants. Getting new impulses doesn’t have to mean you tear it all apart and totally different people are not working on this thing. I usually have a self selection event, people choose their team and then repeat that every six to nine months. And I’ve never, ever seen that everyone has left a team.

And is off to do something else. If that happens, there’s a different problem. There’s something you want to look into, but in general, most people stay for a long time on the team they want to be in and some other people move around. So what you get is relatively stable team with a few changes swaps. And that I find is not the tearing apart. And it gives enough impulse for the teams not become stale.

Shane: When I think about self selection I think about that horrible process when you’re at school and you’re not the most athletic And so , you never picked first. I don’t think I was ever picked last, but I wasn’t near the top of the middle. And so that for me is self selection. You always worry about mates, selecting themselves. So what is the process for self selection that makes it safe? Or what are the anti patterns that we should make sure we don’t do when we’re enabling a team to self-select. 

Sandy: The poor kid at school. Yard is not being picked is exactly the first fear that pops into absolutely everyone’s mind. And what I can tell you is it doesn’t happen. It can’t happen because the prices doesn’t allow for it. You are not being picked. You pick your team. You walk up to an empty team shall and put your photo there. I would like to work there. So it’s no one approaching you going, Hey Shane, do you wanna work with us? It’s the other way around? So that doesn’t happen. They’re not picked. 

Then you have people who might still absolutely hate it or who are totally new they’re on day one in their company or day five. So they have no idea what to choose. So usually also have an area where people have the opportunity to opt out and have a signal. Hey, can someone please approach me and that works well. Most people just decide where they want to go put their photo there. And, most of them stay where they chose to be. There’s some compromise, but they make compromise with each other. There’s no picking. 

Murray: What happens if, everybody wants to be on the sexy digital team, that’s building the new thing, the new product, and they don’t have budget for that. 

Sandy: There’s a huge, enormous assumption right there that everybody wants to work on the new thing, the new product. That’s what I would want to do what you want to do. Maybe Shane too, but I has always been so surprising to me. They’ve always been teams that I would find super non-interesting. That was a pure projection, just because I find something interesting or not interesting, totally different for different people. So, never happened to me that there was a team that didn’t get picked or that everyone picked the same team. 

Murray: But what happens if the team can only afford six people and they have nine people who wanna be on the team. 

Sandy: that is a, constraint you want to make clear upfront. And I once made the mistake of not making that up clear upfront that there was only budget for four people on a team. In retrospect, what we should have done is just for that team, only four people are needed. Maybe you get seven people who are rarely interested, and that’s where you have facilitators in the room to help people have a conversation. Instead of this team, how about that team? What about if you moved over there, then the whole thing could maybe work. What other solutions are there? Because a self selection is not just about me, me, me, me, me. This is where I wanna be. Instead of managers deciding who is going, where we trust people to come up with a good solution for the entire organization or whatever the scope of the self selection is. So We trust you to make this work. Not everyone will get their first choice of team, but a fight when people compromise and don’t end up in the first or second choice of team, they have agreed to it. Or at least they know why it is happening. So they actually behave like responsible adults, 90% of the time. 

Shane: Do you find that. It works better when there is already that trust in place. So would you apply self selection right at the beginning of a new team who, haven’t changed the way they work. Haven’t built that team trust. Is that a dangerous time to experiment with it? 

Sandy: Actually it is easier for them to gel as a team because they’ve chosen to be here. They want to make this work. On an organizational level. I, what be, considerate of the culture. If you have a culture where people are open, get along well, it’s a good culture, then yes. Go and do it. And there is also other companies where I just would not do it because I know it would go wrong. I have seen companies where they did a cell selection and afterwards management moved a few people around and that is actually worse. They’re not just having an honest management selection, nothing bad about that.

Murray: I worked with a team where a few people were real experts and a large number of people were not very experienced. And it seemed to us that the best way to form teams was to put one expert as a leader of each team. It didn’t necessarily have to have the people responsibilities, but have an expert in each team and then have, the other skills around them. But if you ask them. to self select, they might agree to do that. On the other hand, they might just wanna work together, which wouldn’t have been very good either. So I’m thinking for self selection to work, you’d probably wanna put up a team model for each team to say, we need people with skills in product analysis, design build and test in each of these teams. So if we have all developers, that’s not gonna work. If we have all testers, it’s not gonna work. But if we have a model with spaces for pictures to go into that might a solution. Have you tried that. 

Sandy: Yes. And no, I think, having spots, one senior developer, two junior developers wanting to meet a tester is something that blocks you and people from finding good solutions. It is already something that adds complexity to a process. What I do find helpful is to have a constraint, that, you need to be able to deliver to purpose. You need to have the skills. And, not necessarily the roles, because if we focus on skills, then we acknowledge that , not every developer is the same as any other developer. So it’s about people and their skills rather than people’s roles and specialties. Having individual slots, but just going roughly those skills is more helpful than having predetermined slots in my experience.

Shane: Did you hear that Murray? Skills, not roles, mate skills, not roles. so there’s gotta be some pre-work then, right. We have to actually have worked out what the goal of each team’s gonna be, what they’re gonna work on. What we are asking them to deliver. So they know then what skills they’ll need to self form to make sure they can do their work. 

Murray: And how many people they can afford to have as well. 

Shane: So there has to be some knowing constraints. If we have a constraint that, we can only afford five people in this team, we have to know the goal we would like them to achieve.

Sandy: Yeah. You wouldn’t even be able to define whether it was successful or not because can those team deliver to purpose? Yes. Or. dunno. Dunno what the purpose is. So, Absolutely. And there’s a lot of work that goes into that preparation. One of the failure modes is when people just rock up and go, how hard can it be in roughly three teams just put yourselves into something.

There is, I find usually months of let’s rethink, what are the teams that we want? What is their purpose? Are there any other constraints around budgets and whatever other constraints you might need. My recommendation is to have as few constraints as you possibly can so that you don’t introduce more complexity and overlook solutions that people might come up with that you or I might not see.

Murray: I want to ask you about the bigger picture. So teams work within the system and they work within a hierarchy that is defined by managers. And I have gone in and coached teams using, retrospectives and agile processes. And I’ve helped them improve a lot, but they run into organizational blockers quite quickly. There’s lots of different types. The test manager’s very jealous about the testers. So you won’t let them cooperate with the developers. Even if they’re in the same team, there’s a DevOps group who won’t let anybody deploy anything. They’re just the old ops and take months and want giant packages. And, there’s organizational process and structure issues, which really limit how effective a team can do. So is it really all about the team or is it about the bigger picture and then what do we do about that?

Sandy: What I love about my job as an adjunct coach is that, one moment I’ve worked with the team and I’m deep into detail there. And then the next moment I’m talking to the test manager about , not doing controlling all his testers and then I am in a conversation with someone about the release process. And five minutes later, I am talking to the CEO. And I think spanning that spectrum is really important because if I’m honest about my job, what I really do is I go cool. You over here should talk to this person over there. just broker those conversations. Cause they’re all always information silos with people with different perspectives and even the test manager who we perceive as controlling or the DevOps group that is not DevOps at all making decisions they think are right thing for the company. And, Making the possible to understand different perspectives is the way I usually try to go. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail.

Murray: All right. We better go to summaries. What do you think Shane.

Shane: before we do that, I got one question. It’s around team compensation. So what have you seen? Have you seen any good ways that monetary compensation can become more team and goal focused rather than individuals?

Sandy: I have a huge problem with performance bonuses, unless it’s some sort of profit share, cuz I don’t think they actually motivate people and they , create more damage than good. First of all I hate bonuses. Why do we need to have them at all? Working in Europe nobody had any bonus. We just got a salary. So that took a lot of this off the table. And then is how do you pay people? I wouldn’t pay by performance. I would pay by skill. If you pay people by skill, you don’t compete with each other. You acquire more skills and experience over time. And then if you do really want to have a variable part of people’s income, I would go buy a profit share.

Murray: I would pay people by skill, but also by the market. So when I was setting salaries for, people, which I did at one point, I looked at salary surveys from large recruitment agencies. And, they basically tell you a junior is in this range, amid is in this range of the experts in this range. And then I’ve just worked with my leaders to say where is this person? Okay. They should be paid this because we don’t want them to leave. And if they’re being paid as the same as they would, if they went out and looked for a job, then that’s gonna take that off the table completely. And the cost of replacing people is huge. So not?

Sandy: And I think it’s brilliant because what you’re doing is you’re adjusting continuously because the market changes and you don’t want all the people or who’ve joined earlier to leave because the market has taken off. So I think that’s absolutely brilliant to revisit that. 

Murray: What I found interestingly, Sandy, is that people who were quiet and bit insecure, had lower salaries. In particular women from developing countries in this particular company were being paid 25 % less than they should have because they never asked. And so they never got a raise cuz they worried. I felt that was very discriminatory and it’s kind of happened without anybody thinking about it. 

Sandy: Think you must be a really good leader, so good on you for doing that. It’s something really hard in a team even to work with people and especially women from developing countries, because very often their visa is tight to a job. So they’re very scared that if they lose this job, that changes their life entirely. For us we just walk away and find something else for them. It uproots their entire family. So their stakes are so much higher. And I understand why they then go by don’t rock the boat. Don’t ask for a raise and also within a team don’t speak up and that can actually be really detrimental for team performance. And I very often have to say, I struggle with that, getting people out of the shell because it’s good for the team. One also acknowledging and understanding that they understand that the behavior of just doing, as you’re told to do is not the road to success.

Murray: Yeah. We also had the reverse where there was loud extroverted men who made friends with the senior executives who were getting paid a lot more than they should. I put stopped that as well, which wasn’t as popular. Let’s go to summary, Shane, what you got? 

Shane: All righty. so, What are the problems with teams that we should worry about? So teams that are told what to do. Being given a set of tasks and doll to just do the tasks teams that don’t have shared goals. That’s a recurring theme from every guest we’ve had for a long time, is focus on that shared goal. That’s probably the most critical thing to getting a team to work and performing. And then also when people, individuals are focused on their bit and then handing off and they don’t care about their end to end delivery or that goal being achieved, we’ve got a bunch of problems.

I like the fact that you couldn’t quantify what a great team looks like, because I can’t either. I resonate with that, right? when you see joy in the way they’re working, when you see respect across the team members, when you hear and feel that buzz, of them working those ones I recognize. And the one that I didn’t thought about constructive feedback when you see the team giving each other constructive feedback. That’s good. So I think, it’s one of those things that after you’ve worked with a couple of teams you can feel the switch. One team I did work with, they started out doing an NPS school with the team And that was actually one of their feedback loops. It was still a qualitative one, but I thought there was a good technique. Interested in that you’ve seen an increase In pastoral care over the last three years. Maybe that’s the whole, COVID remote working we’re starting to care about that because we can’t assume it’s happening anymore. Cause we can’t see sit in the room and watch people. I like the idea that good teams regulate themselves, right? so set the team up for success and get the hell outta Dodge and just be there if they need you. They’ll come and tell you right. If you’re available, don’t try and regulate themselves. 

The self select. So that key message of team members put their faces in the team they want to be in. So they’re self-selecting, which makes sense, cuz that’s the term not being selected. Uh, and then the second one is watch that override if you’re gonna empower them to self-select they self-select. If you have a constraint, bring it up front and tell them what the constraint is and they’ll work within that constraint. But the idea being as few constraints as possible because it makes it less complex. So really, only put up the constraints you really care about. And then the team get on with it. So yeah, that’s mine. What have you got Murray? 

Murray: Yeah. Probably the biggest problem I’ve seen with teams lately is fear of conflict cause I’ve been working with some offshore teams, but fear of conflict and artificial harmony is a very serious problem that causes poor results, poor performance of a team. I’m still not sure how to get over that. Even try and have conversations with people, leaders and so on didn’t work. So I’ll keep working on that one. 

I agree with you on what is a great team feel like? You can feel it hard to measure. I think NPS might be a good idea, but apart from that, a good team just performs. The kicking goals and they work really well together. You can just feel it. And they’re continually improving, which is another important sign for me. I think , too often managers look to the team as the issue. And you can help teams get a lot better, but very often it’s the system they’re in. And the organization they’re in that becomes the limiting factor. And often managers will ask me to come in and, help them get their team to improve the way that they’re working. And I do that and then find actually it’s the manager themselves or their peers who are causing a lot of the problems that we see in the team. So I think we need to do a lot of work with that as well. 

I also like being a agile coach for the same reason as you Sandy and I get to work on all of these things. I think we’re in the business of organizational change really working from the team level up. And yeah, I very much agree on outcomes and outcome focus, goals, and purpose. It’s very important. I would like to explore the area of selecting your own manager. I haven’t seen people do it, but I’m quite interested in experimenting with it. Any last thoughts from you, Sandy?

Sandy: Writing down the, Ooh, need to try out selecting your manager. And I wonder if I can engineer that, cuz I have a company that’s gonna have new managers and I am one day I’m to rock up and I go, Hey, how about we let people choose their managers. Thanks for the inspiration. I’m off trying to convince people to do that.

Murray: My experience is That managers are highly variable. Maybe one third are great. One third, a bureaucrats who don’t make any difference one way or another. And one third actually make it much harder for the team to perform well., And the people who know that best are the team. So that would be an interesting experiment 

Sandy: Yep. And the same goes for Angela coaches. There are PE where you go, like you’re absolutely amazing. I can learn so much to your average to, oh my God. What the hell are you’re doing?

Murray: Yeah. Particularly the people who have only experienced water scrum fall in, like banks and consulting companies. And then they come in and they’re originally setting that up everywhere they go.

Sandy: Yeah. I was going to ask is that happening in Australia And I dunno if you are cliche, but what I see in New Zealand is actually just agile by numbers and it’s pretty shit, but it’s in those larger enterprises and it’s the same network that move from one enterprise to the next. And when they join, they introduced the same. She agile, I call the McKinsey it’s Australia, too. 

Murray: Yes, boston consulting group. Are driving that here. BGM McKinsey are going around towards the big companies saying we can help you cut your costs substantially by implementing agile. Cause when teams are self-managing, you don’t need as many managers. So we’ll just set a target at firing 25% of managers. We’re going to implement the Spotify model and safe Spotify safe. And we’ll do some packs. We’ll do some big bag change. Pay us the 50 million and see you later. 

There’s a lot of money to be made out of it. I just recently, lost an opportunity to help people, because I said, there’s better ways of doing things than safe and they were absolutely shocked. 

Sandy: Yep. It has become synonymous with agile it’s what people think agile is. My friend Tony uses the word quarter full. I think that’s totally what’s happening. We now have OKRs and three months plans and those three months aren’t waterfall.

Murray: Yeah, they are. And they’ve fixed scope too, despite what everybody says. So yeah it’s a real shame. A lot of it is just due to inexperience. Safe is gigantic and it takes quite a long time to understand what’s going on and what the issues are with it. And, new people to agile. See it and think, oh, this solves everything great. Let’s just do it by the book. 

Shane: In New Zealand government now, right? if you haven’t paid the safe masters to get their certification , you are less likely to get work in New Zealand government. Because they’ve all decided to drink the Koolaid and go down the safe path. of the things that’s come a realization during the podcast is organizations started after 2000. Typically don’t have the large hierarchies. Typically they’re still building their ways of working. Organizations before 2000 they’re based on old ways of working and to change those organizations incredibly difficult. We will get success with teams because we will typically get a team bubble where that team is empowered to change the way they work. Then once we get outside the team and we start to move it through the organization, then we hit the wall. Then we hit that hierarchy and that manager versus leader behavior. I think it’s hard to change those large old organizations.

Murray: Well, what they’re doing, I think Shane is they’re changing agile to become bureaucratic

Shane: Yeah.

Murray: and suit their existing way of doing things. Agile silos. Cause we like silos agile hierarchy. Cause we like hierarchy thousands of rules and processes. Cause that’s what we like.

Shane: Yep. And, Safe is a methodology and some leaders like methodologies because they believe it gives them safety. Hence the name. 

Sandy: Yep. And it’s a brilliant name. It’s an absolutely brilliant marketing name and you need to have a deep understanding of agile to see what’s wrong with it because every single ingredient there is oh, that’s a good thing. Oh, that’s a good thing oh, yeah. That’s also a good thing. And it’s only, if you take all those things together, you realize what has been built, but you need to understand agile before you can see that.

Murray: Yeah, well, it’s like a patent library, but it’s all focused around three month program increments and, tons and tons of rules from above. All right. Thank you very much for coming on sandy. That’s interesting. I learned something about , self selection. I’m gonna try it when I can so much appreciated.

Sandy: Thank you so much for having me. That was fun.

Exit: That was the no nonsense agile podcast from Murray Robinson and Shane Gibson. If you’d like help with agile contact Murray evolve, that’s evolve with zero. Thanks for listening.