Anyone who has ever been on a high-performing team will know what it feels like when a team begins to truly gel, when everyone is committed to and enthusiastic about a shared goal and when people know each other well enough to support and hold each other accountable for great performance.
At New Zealand’s biggest e-commerce site, we first started to implement stable Agile teams based on the work of Spotify (squads, chapters, tribes and guilds) – we started by introducing one team at a time in a controlled manner. As the company grew ever faster we realised we were going to have to scale up, and quickly.
What did we need to solve?
Before introducing stable teams, we had been increasing in staff by roughly one person a week. Adding new people no longer meant we were getting any more done; if anything delivery was slowing down. Every person and project was reliant on someone else and there were a large number of handovers and delays. Projects were constantly being left on hold because there was no one available to work on them; everyone was busy somewhere else.
- Avoid delays
- Minimise handovers
- Create small units where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts
We needed to pull people out of a complex matrix and get them into fixed, stable teams where we could make sure that one person would work on only one team, and one team would work on only one project at any time.
Designing a team doesn’t necessarily mean picking the best people, but rather deciding on the best combination of people based on their interdependent skills, preferences and personalities. We looked at two methods of designing teams to achieve that:
- Managerial selection: Where managers decide by executive decree.
- Self-selection: Where people decide for themselves which team they want to work in.
We firmly believe in Daniel Pink’s principles of motivation (Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose) and we wanted to give people autonomy to decide who they work with and what they work on.
We are not referring to self-organising teams, which are groups of motivated individuals who work together toward a shared goal and have the ability and authority to take decisions and readily adapt to changing demands. We like self-organising teams, but that’s not what this is about.
We ran the largest Self-Selection event of its kind and hundreds of people Self-Selected into dozens of teams (that we called squads) – we saw incredible benefits as a result. We had lots of concerns going into the event; whether people would start fighting, someone would be upset at being chosen last etc but none of those things happened – in fact people reacted brilliantly to this level of autonomy and trust.
We have seen great interest in the story of how we did this and the repeatable Self-Selection process we developed along the way. The book (Creating Great Teams: How Self-Selection Lets People Excel) will be published later this year and you can read about the story at nomad8.com where you will also find a Self-Selection kit that you could use.