How The Formation of Stable Teams Will Benefit Your Entire Organization

By: Kim Antelo | Feb 09, 2023 |  Agile Transformation,  Team

In our last post about stable teams, Agile Transformation Coach, Kim Antelo, shared why stable teams are important and what you do if you have experts that cannot be on every team. In this follow-up video, Antelo explains how the formation of stable teams creates psychological safety on the team, increases team predictability, allows stakeholders to forecast more accurately, and results in less employee turnover.

If you have any questions on how to form more stable, t-shaped teams, we’d love to help. Learn about our team accelerator service, here.

Read the full transcription below.

Hello, this is Kim Antelo, and I’m going to talk a little bit about stable teams, which is a follow-up from a blog that I wrote a little bit ago. That blog was prompted by a Chief People Operations person who was asking about stable teams and how important it is. A lot of what I’m going to be talking about today can be found in the scrum patterns. And there’s a library called Scrum Plop. So if you just Google that, it will take you to a lot of what we’re going to talk about. And there are going to be a couple of controversial things that I might talk about, and hopefully, I’ll draw the lines between those things. Are our teams happier because they’re building more or are they building more because they’re happier? The data isn’t quite clear on that, and so there are some questions about that. 

First of all, let’s talk about stable teams. What happens when you’ve got a group of people who are coming together, focusing on a specific vision and they run into some sort of impediment or roadblock? Typically teams say, Hey, how can I help? Or What can I do to roll up my sleeves to help with this particular problem? That is a pattern that we talk about, swarming. And getting people to start to pair together, to work together. You can call that an ensemble or mobbing, pairing, swarming. There are lots of different terms for it, but that actually helps to build more cross-functional individuals.

We typically talk about those as T-shaped people. People who might have a specific specialty but then are getting a little bit wider. And so that has changed from a T, to a V, to an M, to an E, to all kinds of different letters–I won’t get into that kind of conversation either about which of those letters that you should use. But the point being that when we have people who are no longer worried that their teammates are trying to take their job or that they’re creating some sort of job security by knowing how to do a specific task, it helps the team with kind of that psychological safety, to be able to say, Hey, can you help me or can I teach you these things? And when we start to see that I don’t have to be the bottleneck, I don’t have to be the only person that knows about this specific technology or these kinds of compliance rules. 

And we start to see that there are less bottlenecks that means that I can go on a vacation. I don’t have to be worried about taking paternity leave, having kids, getting married, or going on vacation. I don’t need to worry about having my laptop with me and being on call all the time. I’m going to be happier because I can actually go and take that time because I know that my team has my back and I’ve been working with them to help them with the skills that they need to cover most of the things. Now probably won’t be all of the things, but most of the things now, because we now have less bottlenecks and we’re not just focusing on, hey is Kim is the only one that knows how to do this particular thing or knows this particular process. We’ve got less bottlenecks. That means that we’re actually going to be more predictable because we’re not just focusing on the bottleneck of Kim or that one individual on the team. 

We likely are looking at what we might call yesterday’s weather, which is the velocity, the average velocity of the last three sprints. So we’re starting to see, hey, there’s some sort of trend. We have some idea as to how much work we can actually get out there and be able to accomplish. And hopefully, it’s got higher quality because we’ve got other people looking at it and we are doing that pairing or swarming. 

So that means that we should have less reactiveness from our leaders or our stakeholders who are pushing work onto us. They know, Hey, I can do X amount of points within a sprint. And looking at our backlog, this is where this thing is. And you know, if I wait for a one-week sprint or a two-week sprint, we’ll be able to get that in X weeks based on the priority at this amount of time. So it’ll create more predictability with the teams and with our stakeholders. Our stakeholders are less likely to push more work onto the teams or to say, hey, hurry up and get this in. You can use things like the interrupt buffer to help you with some of those things as well. But we start to see that we have happier stakeholders because they’ve got more predictability–they know what’s coming, and they have a better likelihood of understanding when we’ll get things. And so they’re actually more likely to pull things out or push things further down in that backlog. 

As we’re not always reacting and responding to whatever the latest fire is, that’s obviously making our teams happier because they’re not feeling like they’re being, you know, jerked around and they’re not having whiplash and constantly changing their focus so they can be more committed, so they can actually deliver on the work that they have agreed to do within a sprint.  Then we get into that whole discussion of are the teams happier because they’re delivering more or are they delivering more because they’re happier? I don’t want to get into that fight, but we do know that teams end up being happier when they go through these processes and they’re bringing on a sustainable amount of work and they’re learning new skills and they’re helping each other out and they feel like they’re part of a team. And when they’re happier, they’re less likely to turn over, which means that they’re going to be more stable. 

So it’s funny how that comes kind of full circle and I often talk about this as either being a virtuous cycle, that we’re constantly getting better–just focusing on one of those items. Or it could be a vicious cycle if we’re constantly throwing things at the teams and asking them to do more work then more work than they should, or saying only focus on that on your piece of the work and not really leaning over to their teammates to help. It can definitely be a problem that ends in less happy teams and less stable teams. 

So I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any other questions or want to talk to us about getting some help on these things.

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