Several weeks ago, I wrote about what to look for in a good Scrum Master, and today, I’d like to have a similar discussion about the team. More specifically, let’s talk about what makes for a high-performing team. It’s a common term, and it conjures up different images for different people. If someone were to join a team meeting, what would he or she see? What behaviors does a high-performing team demonstrate? Here’s how I answer those questions.
- Do we contribute at team meetings equally? Do we have the floor in roughly equal amounts? In other words, in a 60 minute meeting, does the six team member talk about ten minutes each? Try this. At sprint planning or grooming, listen for Product Owner. Is the PO explaining every story? Let’s hope not. Instead, our team members should feel equally invested and able to explain items from the backlog.
- What happens when consensus isn’t reached? Consensus isn’t necessary on a high-performing team. We trust our team members and value their opinions. Even if we decide to go in a different direction, that’s okay. Why?
It’s not about being right; it’s about being heard.
- Are conversations sometimes messy? How often do we see our team members disagreeing in our retros? Do we staunchly defend our position, and if wrong, are we willing to concede? On high-performing teams, we’ll tell one another where and when we disagree. We do so directly but respectfully, and sometimes that gets messy. I remember a team who had to tell this Scrum Master to stop talking. They’d remind me at stand ups they had things under control, and they’d appreciate it if I spoke less or not at all. They were right, and I was proud of them for telling me as much. In fact, it helped to inspire this blog post about actively doing nothing.
- Do we take ownership of our failures? Or do we instead devote an inordinate amount of time discussing how the organization failed us? Do we point the finger at others forgetting the three fingers pointed back at ourselves? I hope not. I hope instead team members acknowledge where they failed and commit to doing better next sprint. In fact, reward this behavior immediately the first time it’s seen. In my experience, I’ve found this to be one of the first steps in the evolution to high performance, and if rewarded immediately, team members will follow suit.
- How do we perform when a member is out? I recently did a short survey with a team that I considered high performing. I asked each member to self-rate team activities on a scale of 1 to 10 where 4 is the skill needed to perform the task. Included here is the mean of the team. Is redundancy built into our team? Can we perform even when key members are out of the office? For example, for the team surveyed here, their PO went on vacation for five weeks. In his absence, they continued to thrive, and on numerous occasions, I saw the team calling huddles, discussing new information about ongoing work, and collectively deciding how to proceed.
- Do we continue to challenge the status quo? For a high-performing team, good enough never is. Do we look outside the Scrum framework to find new ways of working together? Do we continue to look for incremental ways to improve the system? After all, it’s important not to become complacent even when we are succeeding.
That’s all for today. Is there any other indicators that you look for in a high-performing team? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.