Lessons Learned from Non-Software Teams

Because agile project management places a special emphasis on the team dynamic (as opposed to the contributions of individuals), I’m always interested to pick up great ideas from hyper-performing teams that work in other fields. This interest started when I had the good fortune to see a presentation by Certified Scrum Trainer Michael James that attempted to uncover the patterns of those teams that seem to achieve the impossible. His examples came from across the board—psychology, avionics, improvisational theater, and jazz. And the patterns he identified truly enlightened what it takes for a team to push itself to evolve into a hyper-productive entity. For example, James found that certain personality types don’t contribute much to team dynamics in which responsibility is shared—and that pairing particular personality types on the same team can be nothing short of toxic. He also found that certain elements needed to be present to keep team members from becoming too comfortable. For example, jazz musicians and improvisatory actors require an audience to elevate their performance. Without an element of risk, such performers do not encounter the threat of failure, which also serves as a compelling motivator. In all, there was far too much in his presentation to succinctly recount here. However, as a frequent reader of his blog, I just saw a similar post, which recommends a short book written by Marine General A.M. Gray which suggests that, for teams engaged in military combat, skill and speed are just as important as size and strength. As James astutely observes, “Effective Scrum teams, with business-savvy Product Owners, have also learned to outmaneuver larger competitors.” James highlights a handful of especially relevant quotes and provides a link to General Gray’s text online.

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