Forget about 10x Individuals, think 10x Teams

The only way to get things done in the world is with teams. Everything made or developed cannot exist without a team behind the initial idea. If you could get things done on your own that make even a small dent in the universe, you wouldn’t need a team. Everyone has ideas, but ideas are cheap. Teams make ideas real and give them value.

Often businesses make the mistake of focusing on individuals in their organisation, believing performance bonuses and promotions will drive progression in the business. Managers look to individuals because they want the best people, those high performers that will garner the best results, in reality the individual is a distraction from the greater objective value.

The 10x Developer is a fanciful thing, I have no doubt there are performers out there that deliver work at a rate ten times that of some other developers, but frankly these are very very rare individuals. I’d posit these high performers are better when they perform in isolation, rather than as part of a larger team.

If you focus on individual performance you will see measures of time to deliver the same task range from 1 week to 40 years according to over 3,800 studies of a wide range of real world work. You can focus your efforts as a manager to develop individuals into high performing employees but it will take a long time and a lot of effort, you might achieve a single 10x worker – even 5x would be a worthy achievement.

Consider focusing on a team of 5 employees and achieving a 2x improvement, assuming the relative value of effort you would see a doubling in performance across an entire team that is twice the value of focusing on an individual.

Takeuchi and Nonaka shared the key characteristics of the best teams they had observed.

A great team understands the goal while being encouraged to act autonomously to deliver extraordinary outcomes. Making use of the various skills available among a team of individuals to effectively address and resolve challenges with solutions only made possible by the collective mind of a team.

Many organisations see a team struggling to deliver in an iterative manner. The first response is to throw more resource at the team to bolster the work force, but more often than not this can slow a team further. They believe hiring 3 more developers to join a 6 person team will increase velocity by 50%, maybe but more than likely the team size is not the issue.

If a scrum team is struggling to deliver on a project it may be that the team requires the support of a facilitator or coach. This is where the roles Scrum Master and Agile Coach come into play. You often need someone with experience cultivating the mindset of Agile into an organisation, particularly when it feels like the closest an organisation has got to being Agile is proclaiming, “We do Agile.”, then continuing on expecting the results without supporting the mindset.

The Agile Coach is a communicator and professional explainer, working at the development team level and the rest of the organisation. Being the champion of the manifesto so the development team can get focussed on delivering and not become disrupted or distracted by external teams and individuals.

A Scrum Master is a servant leader. I will often write that a Scrum Master “leads”, which isn’t a true reflection of the action in itself but is less cumbersome than writing, “the Scrum Master servant-led the team to a change that delivered positive outcomes”. When I say a Scrum Master leads, it is not literal and from the front but more like a therapist, planting little seeds and allowing the team to respond as they see fit by self-organising.

These roles play an important part in the visually active team members, multiplying the performance of a team or teams. You might be able to improve a high performer to a 10x individual in your organisation with a lot of effort and time.

With efforts focussed on the team in the shape of a Scrum Master and/or Agile Coach, you can improve a team of up to 9 (even multiple teams of up to 9) by as little as 2x. Resulting in a 18x team at a low estimate. If there is room to 10x a team you can see performance increase 180x in a single team unit.

This counter culture of software delivery is the secret behind teams that deliver project in weeks and months, that have faltered in the past over the course of months and years.

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