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One necessary change in an agile transformation is teamwork. Agile organisations are structured by teams. People who were used to work on their own, will become team members and work inside a team on the team's goal.

That is already a big change for people. In order to support the team's goal and to work together with other team members, they must extend their focus area from single task to a team goal. Extending the focus area requires experience. Depending on the experience of a team member, the level of contribution to the team's goal varies. Some members are capable to see the big picture others can only see certain aspects. Some know to use all the technologies, some only a couple of frameworks. Some can connect the dots between all the disciplines, some have only experience in their own discipline.

Good teamwork combines all the different level of experiences in the necessary knowledge areas. Inexperienced members learn from other more experienced members and grow. In a well functioning team the individual focus area is growing through the learnings supported by the collaboration between team members.

Everything is the Team

Teamwork is an excellent means to focus on higher-level goals and to cope with the complexity that is required by the solution to reach that goal. But this capability is not infinite. Depending on the collaboration within the team and the learnings the team members have absorbed, there is a limit.

In an agile transformation we want to grow teams. We want to extend their capability to work on higher-level goals. Usually the perfection vision of a team is to extend the Definition of Done, to grow the skills towards Continuous Delivery and the responsibility towards DevOps, to define also the UX, discover product ideas and also to understand the business. Well, you need a lot of experience within the team to cover all of that. The team must absorb a lot of learning. That requires also time and dedication.

If we expect the team to grow too quickly and load expectations onto the team, to do everything within the team, then the team members can be overwhelmed with number of duties in their hands. Especially in a scaling context and in a large organisation the complexity to cope with is hugh. There is a limit of complexity a team can cope with.

The Right to Focus

Finding the right focus of a person is crucial to be in a flow. With flow I mean, that a person is challenged but not overwelmed, challenged to still learn, challenged enough to be not borred. My colleage Mark Bregenzer created the Team Knowledge Model as a tool for Scrum Masters and coaches to make the state of flow transparent to the team. See this documents on less.works for more on the Team Knowledge Model.

Organisations have to provide the focus to the people working inside. Employees have right to be focused (this is how Fredmund Malik states it). If an agile transformation leads to a growing focus of teams, we must be aware that there are limits. The existing experience and the pace of learning new things set the boundaries for the growth of teams.

But there are also other important prerequisits that help the teams and the team members to cope with the growing focus area.

  • Small Batches - working on smaller ingrements of the product reduces the complexity, the teams have to digest.
  • Pull System - it prevents overburden and helps to focus on the right level.
  • Learning culture - especially to learn from mistakes, so team members experience more learning opportunities.

These are standards that are usually adopted in every agile transformation. There are good reasons to stick to them.


Agile organisations are often seen as the opposite of bureaucratic organisations. Many people think, that Agility means to rid of existing strict rules and processes in order to get flexibility. To some extend this is true.

Usualy the word bureaucracy has a negativ touch. It means that an organisation is strictly driven by rules and processes and that a group of people that works in bureaus are executing the rules and have the power to make the decisions. It is a form of administration.

Rules have value

At the beginning of the 20th century, Max Weber a German sociologist published an slidely different take on bureaucracy. He claimed that bureaucracy is the liberation of the people from autocracy. Before bureaucracy, the main administrative model in organisations was autocracy. The autocrat has the power to decide everthing at anytime. People cannot rely on certain rules or laws and must expect at any time to be effected by the autocrat's decisions.

In a bureaucracy the decisions are made based in fixed rules (or laws). Weber sees the following advantages:

  • Handeling based on predictable rules without arbitrariness
  • Processes are done by educated staff
  • Independent from personal relations
  • Independent from political view

Well, we all know, that autocracy is coming back in some areas.

Frame for self-organisation

Getting back to agile organisations. The simplistic opinion, that Agile means to get rid of bureaucracy is a trap. I have experienced that managers - who claim to lead an agile organisation - don't focus on rules, don't define focus areas or don't nurture lateral leadership. "Agility means there are no rules. The people will figure it out." But without rules forming a frame for self-organisation, the law of the jungle is coming back. Often a hierarchy is still present, that defines, who is in charge. The people with the most power make the decision or arbitrarily intervene. We are back to a form of autocracy.

With agile organisations we transform bureaucratic organisations in the 21st centrury. It's more a bureaucracy 2.0 than the opposite of it. Agile means that rules that are adaptive. People of the organisation are involved in changing the rules and setting up agreements rather than rules. Both, the rules and agreements are part of the order that is necessary in a funtioning organisation. They give orientation and focus for the people within the organisation.

Agreement are better than rules

The wording is interesting here. Rules are more formal, they are setup and imposed by others. Rules are pushing us towards obedience. Agreements are created by two or more parties for themselves. Their goal is collaboration and they nurture intrinsic motivation (nice post about it by Joshua Freedman). In agile organisations we reduce the number of rules and create more room for agreements. Rules are the frame. Within the frame the self-organisation happens. Agreements are an important part of the self-organisation. Rules as well as agreements are made transparent, so everyone knows about them. The perfection goal is to replace rules with agreements. One example is the current trend in the Agile movement towards OKR (Objective - Key Results). The Key Results in OKRs are agreements between a manager and a group of people. People will be intrinsicly motivated by agreements. That fits more to an agile culture than to impose objectives on them.

Maximize agreements and make rules adaptable

A management is usually in charge of the rules. They are responsible to set the frame for self-organisation. They also have to provide a mechanism to inspect and adapt the frame. Within the frame the people are asked to make agreements. To ensure that agreements are made, lateral leadership is necessary (Coaches, Scrum Masters). They look after the group's processes and help the convergence towards agreements. They also drive the continuous improvement of the agreements and interface with the management on the adaption of the frame of rules.

So, rules to some extend are necessary, especially to give focus to the people. I will cover the "right to be focussed" in a next blog post. Without framing rules and without lateral leadership that ensures agreements are in place and respected, the people are missing an order within the organisation. To avoid chaos, the gap will be filled by powerful people who make the decisions. So, be aware of the hidden autocracy in organisations that falsely claim to be Agile.