Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How to Build a High Performance Team

Culture-fit doesn't need to be Voodoo Magic

Having a team with cross-functional skills is fundamental for Agile teams.  Culture-fit can push these teams to a higher performance. This doesn't need to be a "from-the-gut" activity.  Here are three steps I have taken to build teams with the right culture fit:

  • Select individuals with similar core-values
  • Pair "Professors" and "Entrepreneur" within a team
  • Ask individuals privately who they enjoy working with


Jurgen Appelo describes core values as "the ones that come naturally to you. Without them, you wouldn’t be yourself." -

The challenge I found, is that if you ask someone their core values... they either may not know, or may tell you what they'd like to be true.  I've found the the "click-down" tool to be a great way to interview your team and learn what really makes them tick.

Professors and Entrepreneurs

I have no shame in admitting this is stolen right from Spotify's playbook.  The basic idea is that the Professor wants to get it done perfectly ... while the Entrepreneur wants to get it done quickly.

"There is a healthy tension between these roles, as the entrepreneur tends to want to speed up and cut corners, while the professor tends to wants to slow down and build things properly.  Both aspects are needed, that's why it's called a healthy tension." -

With Spotify's setup, they have the Product Owner and Chapter Lead play these roles.  However, we found success in setting up our teams who had natural inclinations as either a Professor or Entrepreneur. 

This healthy tension would generate solid intelligent debate about applying "best practices" and balancing out the need to be "results-oriented".

This works really well once you've found individuals who share similar core-values.  If this is lacking, what could be a healthy debate between a "Professor" and "Entrepreneur" may instead be demotivating and disempowering.

Ask Them

Although this may seem obvious, it can easily be a missed step in forming new teams.  While you would want to avoid a conversation about "who's the better developer?" ... it can be a fairly neutral conversation to ask "who do you really enjoy working with?".

The emphasis of the conversation is on personal preference - not performance.

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