JC Penney’s wisdom on teams is undebatable - writing about the benefits of great teamwork seems redundant. We all know that great things are produced by great teams and that a great team is always greater than the sum of it’s parts. However, in software development we often attempt to build teams without focusing on the collective purpose that drives that team.
From journeymen and mavericks
A collection of individuals only becomes a team when it is given a common purpose. We see this in sport: teams constructed of journeymen can outperform teams made of mavericks if their collective purpose or ‘sense of team’ is stronger. A great leader knows this. From Steve Jobs with the Macintosh project to Winston Churchill in the Blitz and Mandela’s dismantling of apartheid, through to countless successful sporting teams: what bound their teams together was a collective purpose.
No lesser light than Andrew Carnegie declared: "Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results."
A team’s collective purpose needs to mean something. It has to be aligned to goals that are meaningful. And that is true for politics, sports as well as it is for software delivery. In traditional software delivery you may nominally be of a team, and may nominally have a purpose. More often than not however, that purpose is based around something obscurely abstract: delivering a stable data layer, delivering great visuals or well-factored code. These are quite unlikely to provide the energy, motivation and call to arms you were hoping for.
Hopefully, the company you work with does a good job of communicating their purpose, the vision and drivers. Because ultimately that’s part of what should energise you at work. So why not bind your team’s collective purpose to something closely connected to it?
Cross-functional teams need a shared purpose
In agile software delivery we build teams that are able to independently build increments of business value. Teams are cross-functional - containing all skills necessary to define, build and ship the new features. The teams are aligned to producing value to the business rather than to the abstract purposes of providing excellence within a functional silo. This not only gives the team a laser-focus on adding value to the business. It gives them a powerful collective purpose aligned to the organisation they work in. As a result, the energy levels of the team are far higher and the self-belief of their ability to deliver is far greater.
Align this collective purpose to empowerment, autonomy and a narrow-focus and we are on our way to delivering high-performing teams – teams that need very little oversight, that are extremely efficient, fast and best of all... happy!