Last week I went to ride my mountainbike with some friends. It had been dry for some time, and the sand was loose, which made it heavy to get through. After my friends wore me out on the track, we talked about our gear and I mentioned I want to upgrade my wheels for some stiffer ones, so I could go faster through turns. It’s quite easy to upgrade your bike and make it perform better. You just swap some part for a superior one and most of the time you get a better performing bike. Goal achieved :).

People are of course different. You can not just swap one person in a team with a comparable person and expect the same result. And what is a comparable person anyway? So, how do you replace someone in a team, or compose a new team for that matter?

When composing a team we are inclined to choose the best people for it. Highest in IQ, most technical skills, best looking resume. But do these factors matter the most? Research from Google indicates that they don’t. It isn’t the IQ of the team members that make it a great team. It is not the diversity of the team, nor the skills they have. The foremost factor and prerequisite for high performing teams is psychological safety. Psychological safety is defined as the “shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking”. In a team where there is psychological safety people speak equally much and they are able to sense each other’s emotions. For this to happen they should be able to trust eachother and don’t hold back to say what they think or feel.

So, when this is the case for teams, how about a team of teams? Teams that work together in the same value stream? Will they perform best when there is psychological safety between the teams? I would think they would.

Get up and talk to people!

This got me thinking about scaling frameworks, like SAFe, LeSS and Nexus. There is quite a difference between the way these address coordination between teams. SAFe provides not only ceremonies, like the Program Increment planning or System Demo, but also roles like the Release Train Engineer and support groups like DevOps and System Team. On the other side is LeSS, that almost solely relies on Feature Teams themselves to do coordination. Nexus, Scrum.org’s answer to scaling challenges, is a bit in between. It defines a Nexus Team, that has a coordinating role. If speaking to eachother and sensing emotions are precursors to psychological safety, I would think that the more external coordinating mechanisms a scaling framework provides, the less it enables psychological safety between teams. It might be more efficient to have a dedicated role to do coordination and resolve dependencies. But it might not foster the environment that enable psychological safety between teams and hinder organizational performance. I like the statement that’s made in the LeSS documentation: “[Just] get up and talk to people.”.

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