Successful Agile Needs Teamwork


Agile embraces the concept of self-organizing teams but they are inherently unstable and are only successful when the ‘Leadership – Self-Management’ dilemma is understood and dealt with. Too much central control destroys agility, inhibits creativity and resists change. Too much self-management leads to chaos and anarchy and destroys a team. A successful Agile Team needs to operate as far along the continuum towards self-management as it can, without tipping over into chaos. You can’t just eliminate the PM role and say to a software development team, “OK, you’re now an Agile Team – you need to self-organize”. This is a recipe for failure, and one of the reasons why many organizations resist the Agile approach.


Many of the problems with self-organizing teams can be understood when we examine personal work values. Work values are fundamental concepts or beliefs which people use to guide their behavior in the workplace. They drive our decision-making and cause us to summon up energy to preserve what we believe in. They go beyond specific situations and determine how we view people, behavior and events. Often major sources of conflict and disillusionment are due to mismatched values. Whereas we are often willing to work on tasks that we dislike, we are much less likely to compromise when our values are under threat.

Values are difficult to observe in others, as they are inner concepts often buried in the human psyche and not readily accessible by the conscious mind. When these values are violated then the conscious mind takes over and appropriate behavior occurs to preserve and defend this attack.

Window on Work Values

The model of the Window on Work Values helps explain the difficulties of self-organizing teams.



The Window on Work Values has two independent axes. On the west-east axis of the Window on Work Values are the value types of Self-Focus and Group-Focus. The key ‘self-focus’ value type is that of Individualism. People high on Individualism will invest energy in being seen as capable, intelligent and highly competent. They will value self-sufficiency and also the rewards that go with being successful.

The key ‘group-focus’ value type is that of Collectivism. Collectivism emphasizes the placing of group goals over personal ones. Those who value this highly will want to put others first, support the underdog and work with loyal people who value harmony. Issues such as truth, integrity and fairness feature high on their list. The generation of group opinions and adherence to them are far more important than personal gain. People who value Collectivism highly will use the power of the group to bring individual recalcitrants into line with group thinking.

Running north-south through the model is the axis defining the organizational environment that people value. On the north side are the values associated with Organizational Constraint while on the south side are the values associated with Organizational Freedom .

Compliance is a core value type built around a person’s need to work to an agreed set of rules and procedures – the Organizational Constraints . People high on Compliance feel comfortable in knowing what they can and can’t do and it is this security that enables them to give of their best. They have difficulties working in an environment of ambiguity and chaos.

Organizations that value Compliance will usually have a clearly defined strategy and a system of ensuring that detailed business objectives are cascaded throughout the organization. In most cases performance-evaluation schemes against these targets are designed to ensure the business objectives are delivered. For many of these organizations the basic philosophy may well be that of ‘punishment’ rather than encouragement.

Directly opposite the Compliance value type is Empowerment. A person strongly holding this value type will insist on Organizational Freedom, where they can have the opportunity to contribute to the organization, unfettered by unnecessary rules and regulations. They will accept the need for business objectives and performance targets but because they hold to the principles of self-reliance and self-accountability they will want to establish their own constraints in order to pursue outputs and outcomes in their own way. Organizations that value Empowerment highly can often be identified by their open system of management where there is a readiness to listen to other’s ideas, no matter how radical, and a culture where

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