Agile Teamwork - A Stumbling Block or a Stepping Stone to High Performance?


Back in the 90’s self-managed teams were all the rage but they had a high rate of failure mainly because team members lacked people skills. These ideas of self-managed teams were borrowed by the Agile movement when in 2001 they formulated a ‘new’ way of working, based on Agile principles. However, self-managed teams only work well when team members understand a lot about human behavior and why people do the things they do!


Agile team members are usually composed of highly skilled knowledge workers with strong values of Independence. Some are worth more to an organization than the people who manage them! Many software developers are quite introverted, preferring to interact with their computers rather than people. My own IT degree course hardly spent any time on people skills and nothing on the even more difficult concept of what people need to do to ‘self-manage’ into a high-performing team. I’ve had to learn this in the world of experience. I wonder how many readers find themselves in a similar position?

Rather than let Agile Teams try to reach high-performance by trial and error it seems to me that the first thing to do is for everyone to understand the behavioral characteristics of their team members. A good starting point is to learn about the nature of teamwork and the preferences people have to engage with some tasks and not others.

The Nature of Work


A starting point for Agile Teams is to understand the nature of the work that all teams need to focus on. The Team Management Systems Types of Work Wheel identifies eight distinct ‘Types of Work’ that need to be undertaken by all teams, regardless of their industry. We have found this concept invaluable when working in the area of Agile Project Management.


The eight work functions are listed below, with the approval of Team Management Systems.

If you want to get valuable feedback about your current or future Agile Team we’ve put up a free agile teamwork questionnaire on our website. You’ll get a free 8-page assessment of what you think about your team’s performance, based on these eight Types of Work, or work functions.



Team Management Systems Types of Work Wheel


Work Preferences

For teams to be high-performing it’s essential that these eight Types of Work are done well. But Team Management Systems has discovered that rarely does anyone actually enjoy doing all of these functions. People show distinct ‘work preferences’ for maybe just two or three of these activities.

Work Preferences are dimensions of individual differences in tendencies to show consistent patterns of relationships, thoughts, feelings and actions in the work environment. When we are working to our preferences we set up conditions where our psychic energy can flow freely. If we are more extroverted we like work where there are lots of interactions with others, both inside and outside the organization. If we are more introverted, then we like conditions where we can work on our own with few interruptions and a minimal requirement for meetings. Under these conditions our energy can flow freely with minimal resistance. Just as electrical energy generates heat when it meets resistance so our psychic energy generates tension and stress when it has to flow through areas that are not our preference.

I have a preference to work in the Advising and Innovating areas on the Types of Work Wheel and I don’t really enjoy Promoting or Organizing activities, so wherever possible I’ll spend time thinking about new ideas or finding out as much as I can about the project.

What happens in an Agile Team is that there’s likely to be an imbalance when you look at the work preferences of all the team members. If everyone is like me then there’ll be a tendency to give priority to making changes and incorporating the latest ideas. Teams like this may have the weakness of never tracking their burn-down charts!


Other weaknesses occur if everyone enjoys just Organizing and Producing. Your team may be well organized and


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