The Wisdom of Teams

I’ve read a lot of books lately about agile, organizations, teams, work systems, lean, etc. This one really stands out: “The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization” by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith. Right now, there is a huge discussion on the ScrumDevelopment Yahoo! group about, among other things, the importance of Self-Organizing teams in the definition of Agile/Scrum. Without doubt, this book demonstrates over and over that Self-Organization is a critical component of high performance “real” teams. I haven’t yet finished the book, but already it is proving invaluable to me as an Agile coach, inside my family, and in my understanding about how to develop my own business. The following is an extract from the book:

Teams also need to develop a common approach–that is, how they will work together to accomplish their purpose. Indeed, they should invest just as much time and effort crafting their working approach as shaping their purpose. A team’s approach must include both an economic and administrative aspect as well as a social aspect. To meet the economic and administrative challenge, every member of a team must do “equivalent” amounts of real work that goes beyond commenting, reviewing and deciding. Team members must agree on who will do particular jobs, how schedules will be set and adhered to, what skills need to be developed, how continuing membership is to be earned, and how the group will make and modify decisions, including when and how to modify its approach to getting the job done. Agreeing on the specifics of work and how it fits together to integrate individual skills and advance team performance lies at the heart of shaping a common approach. It is perhaps self-evident that a working approach that delegates all the real work to a few members (or staff outsiders) and thus relies on review and discussion meetings for the only “work together” aspects of the approach cannot sustain a real team. (p56)


Wow! That’s about as clear a description of self-organizing teams as I have ever read! I think that that is even more extreme than an agile approach to self-organization since Agile Work sets up some basic parts of the approach such as the Work Queue, Iterations, Team Status, etc. The Retrospective is the relatively limited explicit place where the team adjusts its approach in Agile Work.

The book goes on for several more pages about the “common approach” aspect of real teams. There are examples and other details which constantly resonated with my specific understanding of self-organization.


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