Long lived teams need to emulate The Borg

BorgWhen staffing projects, many organizations follow restaurant prix fixe models – give me one team member from column A, two from column B and so on.

Allocation decisions for such projects are usually made through a combination of degree of fit for requirements with a healthy dash of politics thrown in. Anyone who disagrees with my inclusion of the latter has never managed a project where the quality of their relationship with people managers was a key influencer over the calibre of the team members they were assigned!

Unless the project has an unusually long duration or the assigned resources have had the opportunity to previously and recently work together, the lifecycle of Tuckman’s ladder will play out. By the time the team has finally completed norming and is ready to reap the benefits of performing, the bulk of the project scope might have been delivered and the team will be nearing the point of dissolving.

This inability to fully exploit the development of a team is the primary reason why persistent teams are encouraged as organizations transform from a project focus to a product focus. Similar to professional race car pit crews, over time the uniqueness of working with one another and the need for explicit rules of engagement fade to the point where very long lived teams can appear to an outsider to be engaging in mind-reading when they are interacting with one another.

This synergy encourages efficient work flow by waste elimination with the team adjusting to help one another overcome bottlenecks impeding individual work activities as well as serving as quality checks for each other.

Such teams are encouraged to be whole – composed of a diverse groups of individuals each possessing a unique set of skills such that they become capable of tackling whatever comes their way.

But what happens when a team which has worked together for a long time suddenly faces an urgent challenge which they are unable to tackle?

One hopes that the team would recognize that they need to quickly augment their skills by soliciting extra assistance. But they might be reluctant to do so as it would mean risking the team’s high productivity and harmony of the team.

Precious time could be lost in the debate over which risk poses the greatest threat – the ship capsizing because they chose to be self-sufficient or the ship capsizing because new crew members “rocked the boat”.

To avoid this risk being realized, long lived teams should prioritize:

  1. Developing sufficient group awareness to know when they require outside help
  2. Cultivating and encouraging humility to prioritize the good of the business ahead of the good of the team
  3. Creating processes and supporting documentation to help them quickly assess whether a potential addition to the team is likely to be disruptive (to weed them out) and to help selected newcomers quickly fit within the work practices and cultural mores of the team.

“We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile” – Star Trek: First Contact


Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Long lived teams need to emulate The Borg

  1. Pingback: Long lived teams need to emulate The Borg – Better Time Management

  2. John Senior

    Basically, you seem to advocate moving back to tradition project teams that stayed together throughout a project or even over the life of several projects and away from matrix managed organizations. At last!


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