How Agile sets up teams to be Excellent

Agile is an excellent framework for organizing a team to produce work. But it says very little on how to make that team excellent at what they do. And that is one of Agile’s strengths – it allows a team to find its own way to excellence without imposing rules.

Actually, Agile says *almost* nothing – but it does say this:

-      The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams
-      Agile processes promote sustainable development.
-      Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project
-      At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

NB: taken from the Agile principles

These principles are still somewhat vague: we have to look at Agile Methodologies, like Scrum, to see how these can be done.  Scrum introduces the Scrum Master with guidelines to promote sustainability, daily working, and reflection in retrospectives.  But the Scrum Master is a servant-leader to the team, and from here Scrum is silent on how to ensure the team is behaving as an excellent team.  Or rather, Scrum, and Agile as a whole, leave the door open for excellence to take hold.


Here excellence is the art of doing things easily, even if they are difficult. It’s maximizing the amount of work NOT done, when you can reach your goals with the minimum of effort, stress, complication. This could have been taken straight from the book of Lean, Occam’s razor - climbers know this as "flow".

Many examples of excellent teams are all around us: A medical team performing open-heart surgery, fire-fighters, an IT support desk, Air-traffic controllers.  In sport: an F1 pit team, a yacht crew, and of course, a rugby scrum. Even in the animal kingdom you can find Wolves, whales, bees and ants whose teamwork is excellent.

Excellent teams are recognized as being excellent by the following characteristics

-      They have a positive outlook with drive and purpose
-      They Communicate well, are Friendly, and even have Fun!
-      They are Supportive, they Share and Learn together
-      They are inclusive, they Trust and Respect each other, are Open and Honest with each other

How then does a team gain these characteristics?

Firstly through awareness: Be aware of when you are excellent, as an individual and as a team. Notice how you get things done, when work is easy, when the team ‘Gels’, or when it delivers. Don’t focus on the negatives – this is practicing to fail. Better to enhance the positive and use the ripple effect to raise all round ability.

Next is buy-in.  Ask the team how they think an excellent team behaves, how work should be done, what it would be like to work in an excellent team. Ask them what actions they could take to encourage that behaviour. Since it comes from the team itself, they will be more receptive to start acting this way.

Ask them what the benefits of excellent teams are? to the team itself, their department, the organization, their customers. The potential alone can be a great motivation.

Finally, make time for the team to update the issues in retrospectives and other discussions, issues such as obstacles to excellence, how to give each other support, and how to build on current successes into areas still below par.

These concepts and tools can easily be combined with Agile methodologies while still preserving the responsibility and synchronicity of the team, and also helping them on the way to discover their own excellence.

This blog was inspired after attending the Technical Excellence course from Meta.  Many thanks to Jo and Di for their insight and support.