The brain of an Agile team

I remem­ber that some time ago I was in a city, some­where in Roma­nia. It was morn­ing, I was at the hotel, being a bit late for a meet­ing. So I left half of my break­fast unfin­ished and I hur­ried through the lob­by, which was unex­pect­ed­ly emp­ty. You prob­a­bly know the feel­ing of those morn­ings when you’re in a hur­ry and all the objects and all the peo­ple seem to stand in your way. Well, it was not that case that morning.

It was rain­ing out­side so I decid­ed to but­ton my rain­coat, but being late I did it while walk­ing in a hur­ry to the exit door which was, very con­ve­nient­ly, wide­ly open. I fin­ished but­ton­ing and then raised my head to look ahead just in time to see the unusu­al­ly clean glass of the door block­ing my way at 3 inch­es in front of me. The impact was unavoid­able, leav­ing me with a nice, red bump on my fore­head, quite appro­pri­ate for the meet­ing I was about to attend. It was prob­a­bly then when I first reflect­ed upon the prac­ti­cal­i­ty of trans­paren­cy. Is not always a good thing. And, if we think about, despite the usu­al mean­ing we asso­ciate to the word, some­thing that has trans­paren­cy is not real­ly vis­i­ble. But enough with the semantics.

Since we’re talk­ing about trans­paren­cy – which means shar­ing a com­mon under­stand­ing — let me share with you my rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Scrum.

Think about this: rug­by is the only team sport that has this unique and spe­cial moment when the entire team has to become one body, coör­di­nate per­fect­ly and strive for their very best to get the ball as a premise for scor­ing. Becom­ing as one is not every­thing, but is the foun­da­tion of every­thing else, of the future per­for­mance. None of the play­ers can seek for per­son­al glo­ry, none of them can be per­ceived as the star – is the team that shines or not.

Oth­er team sports – soc­cer, vol­ley­ball – allow for a cer­tain indi­vid­u­al­i­ty. Mes­si can make a dif­fer­ence in a soc­cer team with­in a moment of grace. Rug­by is not like that. A rug­by team is all about work­ing as one and being all suc­cess­ful or fail­ing mis­er­ably togeth­er. That’s how I imag­ine Scrum: sol­i­dar­i­ty, sup­port and coör­di­na­tion. This is my men­tal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. The per­fect Scrum team is – or, to be more pre­cise, should strive to be – one body, breath­ing, mov­ing, work­ing and think­ing as one.

As I became aware of this rep­re­sen­ta­tion, I spent some time once in a while to reflect on how the team may achieve this ide­al state. And I real­ized that a lot of the coör­di­na­tion that is required to become a real Scrum team is some­how guid­ed by the process itself: breath­ing the tech­nol­o­gy and digest­ing the back­log which cre­ates the ener­gy for the new prod­uct, let­ting infor­ma­tion flow in an imag­i­nary cir­cu­la­to­ry sys­tem, using best prac­tices and infra­struc­ture as bones to sup­port the devel­op­ment effort. At a cer­tain point I arrived to the ques­tion: how is the brain of the team form­ing and per­form­ing? How is the team devel­op­ing a com­mon way of thinking?

Some time ago I was read­ing an inter­est­ing quote of the 17th cen­tu­ry French philoso­pher Blaise Pas­cal. In his book Thoughts (Pensees), he made a very inter­est­ing remark about the human body1. He noticed that when a new per­son is born all its body func­tions are per­fect­ly adapt­ed to life and need no fur­ther adjust­ments. We can breathe, eat, walk, the heart is beat­ing with­out any exter­nal inter­ven­tion – is just a mat­ter of exer­cise to make our­selves fit­ted for the world. Except for the brain. There is almost noth­ing in our brains that is already exist­ing when being born that would be help­ful for our future life. We need to learn every­thing from out­side: from our par­ents, from soci­ety or from our own expe­ri­ences. Moral, social norms, sci­ence, prac­ti­cal habits all needs to be achieved through works and repetition.

So, while reflect­ing upon Scrum, and I found myself think­ing: since a new Scrum team is a new body just being born, would it be rea­son­able to acknowl­edge such a sim­i­lar­i­ty? Is it true that a Scrum team comes with every­thing in place and almost func­tion­ing, need­ing just some adap­ta­tion to the con­text, but no set­up of their com­mon way of think­ing, their com­mon morals, norms and prac­ti­cal habits? And, if this is true, how do they devel­op this com­mon way of thinking?

Read fur­ther:
The fab­ric of the Agile brain

  1. Actu­al­ly, the book is a col­lec­tion of dis­parate thoughts of Pas­cal, dis­cov­ered after his death and pub­lished posthu­mous­ly. []

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