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The agile team

In the old days, the teams that worked on software development projects were very hierarchical. Designs were handed down to the developers who were expected to implement them exactly. In 2001, the authors of the Agile Manifesto articulated what many developers had known for a long time, which was that it is the development team themselves who are best placed to understand the requirements and get the work done. This is embodied in the fifth principle of the Agile Manifesto:

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

The key work, however, is motivated. Everyone in the team has to take responsibility for their part in the project and for operating the procedures that have been agreed. If one person does not do this, they become a weak link in the chain, and the entire team may be affected.

It is important to recognise that just putting a group of people together does not make them a team. It will take a little time for any group to start working effectively together. The Tuckman model of team development provides a framework for understanding the development of a team.

The Tuckman model

In the beginning, the team members are getting to know each other and are careful to appear polite and enthusiastic. Agreement is reached easily about the goals of the project - perhaps because the detail is not yet available. The team leader can be a crucial focal point during this stage and the other team members are happy to follow along. This is the forming stage.

After the initial optimism, team members start to get to know each other better and are not so inhibited about sharing their opinions. This can lead to arguments and power struggles within the team and confusion over roles. Team effectiveness drops from its earlier high point and some quieter team members may become very disillusioned. A good team leader will be aware of these issues and will help to guide the team through them. This is the storming stage.

Once team roles have been clarified, the team members can start to work together as a group. They start to establish working routines which help to build confidence that things are going to plan. Effectiveness increases as the team gets accustomed to their own established procedures. This is the norming stage.

After the team has been working together for some time, they develop a good rapport. They have essentially internalised the team's methods and routines and can communicate easily because they have a common frame of reference. This stage is know as performing, and is the target stage for a project team.

The Tuckman model of team development

It is difficult to maintain effective operation if the team completely egalitarian. Most teams need a focus of some kind, and this is more important the larger the team becomes. The Scrum methodology defines the role of scrum master whose responsibility is to make sure that the team operates according effectively according to the rules of Scrum. Among other things, the scrum master is responsible for facilitating the daily stand-up and for administering the task board. However, the role definition is clear that the scrum master is a servant leader: this means that they are not in change of the team in the sense that they tell the team what to do. Instead they are there to serve the interests of the team by making sure that it operates effectively.

Further reading

The agile team

Understanding the stages of team formation

What is a scrum master?