Organizational Gardners

Being a team-building enthusiast and agile blabber-mouth allows me to participate from everything from executive meetings to dev. team ping pong tournaments and believe me when I say, I’ve had more fun in meetings than I have playing ping pong. I’ve been in meetings where everyone feeds off one another and we’re able to build, optimize, or plan something amazing. I’ve been in meetings I’ve looked forwards to and left feeling refreshed to go do more! Why won’t I forget those meetings? Because those teams were high-performing, self-organizing, powerhouses with leaders that gave them direction and guardrails. Some of the most engaging leaders and most amazing teams I’ve ever worked with were waterfall folks through and through.

It would seem that great teams have far more to do with the right place, the right timing, and the right people coming together than the right framework or process. Despite that, we can’t let ourselves think that we can just create amazing teams by moving people to adjoining cubicles. That only works if your organization is already The Right Place, with The Right Timing, and all The Right People. If you’re missing one or more of those pieces, it’ll be hard for any of your teams, agile or otherwise, to thrive in the way that you expect.

Even with an unlimited budget, those pieces don’t come together overnight. We should think of ourselves and managers – we’re organizational gardeners.

We build the right environment, provide guidance and direction, and foster the individual development of our team members over the course of time. Unsurpirngly there are many obstacles – after all, if it was easy to have great teams, wouldn’t we all have them? And so sometimes, even if we do our best as gardeners to create the right conditions though trimming, watering, and supporting structures, our plants may not bloom.

 So what else what prevents great teams from existing?

  • Goals we don’t believe in.
  • Lack of visibility or ownership in what we do.
  • We don’t feel like we are a part of something great or adding much of value.
  • Working with groups of people that are not really “teams”.
  • A bad physical environment.
  • Spending a great deal of time doing “other stuff” that doesn’t add value to the product.

Having a process that supports the organization and a culture that empowers the individuals makes it easier for these high preforming teams to emerge but, great teams are not about “methodology” or “process” or even “culture”. Great teams are far more complex than that. Just as plants can’t be forced to bloom, people cannot be simply “roped into” the team – they have to “opt-in”. That means the biggest value addition a leader can provide is to set a clear vision and establish guiding principles for their teams so that individuals understand how their work fits into a larger picture. From there, management should continue to understand what their team members need and partner with change agents and leadership to continue tending the garden.

It goes without saying, if we don’t plant the right way, we will reap the wrong things.

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