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Building The Right First Team


Recently, I’ve been asked, why build cross-functional teams? And I have been asking, who do you consider as your first team?¬†Almost immediately, I get a blank look followed by, “you mean the team reporting to me?”

It’s not a new concept, Patrick Lencioni wrote in “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” with a management fable to illustrate the first team concept. In agile, we create cross functional team and that team is the first team.

Recently, I’ve been entering into the beauty gadgets age. And I’m playing with this new research of how LED light is great for skin. When I bought my gadget, I remembered my science lessons on why white light is white when there are a spectrum of colours in light that we only see in a rainbow with water in the air separating the rays.

Recently, I went back to singing. And I remembered my training in the choir as an alto, the melody is great for sopranos and altos had the un-fun game of singing off the melody. And everyone else accompany the melody to make the chorus sound great.

And I return to my point on first teams. Any organisation can’t survive with only just finance, only just customer service, only just sales, only just operations, only just technology. Whenever I ask the question, “who do you consider as your first team?” I can almost be certain to tell if the organisation is built on foundations of cross team integration and collaboration by the answers I get.

So why is it so important? Why do I get so worked up when people ask me, can’t we just have design squad, front-end squad, back-end squad, API squads?

Let’s start from the board room.

When the leaders in the board room is a team of cross functional team, each leader is representing his/her agenda from his/her lens. Each voice has to be clear and strong to represent the interest of investors, employees and customers with the operational areas of their business. When the views are clear and considered, decisions made are considered.

What It Is Not

A compromise – it is not about compromising each party’s stand. That is the spirit of win-lose.

A balance – it is not about balancing each party’s desire. That is the spirit of democracy and political pull of votes weigh in.

A compromise and finding balance is always precarious when forces hit and we try to do all by multi-tasking.

What It Is

Prioritise – it is about timing the needs and considering what needs to be done first. And priorities are broken down (like user stories) so we don’t get blocked by a chunky priority and lose sight of others.

Focus – it is about focusing on what’s right for the time. And the focus gives each priority a time to build and test and realise it’s potential but not so long that it becomes cross-eyed.

And small priorities focused in a short time span can provide data for pivot because there is a time to look far and look near.

Real World Agility

In the real world, it’s often hard to form first teams. So many times, personal agendas and turf takes over. So many times, survival instincts and prides take over. So I ask, “what is the right thing to do?”. It’s the hardest question to answer. What’s right, in whose eyes?

So I say, all things considered, a beautiful constraint, what is the most beautiful thing we can do with all the constraints we have? When all things are truly considered, any decision can be made and acted on with confidence of best intentions. We run it, test it and learn from it.

And I will always say, the past can only inform us, it cannot determine our future. What we know today will always be more than what we knew yesterday. Keep learning and doing.

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