Team orientation – how are well-functioning teams built?

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Currently, nearly all work is teamwork. Does the establishment of teams constitute work? Yes it does, says Christopher Avery, who promises that anyone can build any team any time. Christopher has productised this promise through his Powerful Teams method. I will put this into practice.

“This is unnecessary,” a team member said. “Thank you,” I replied. 

Digital services are developed in multi-talented teams

When we develop digital services, this takes place in multi-talented teams. I claim that teams cannot work optimally unless they have been built. Take the analogy of building a house – start from the foundations. I start by clarifying the roles of the team and its members. In this article, I will discuss team orientation and the practical steps related to it.

Multi-talented team

The concept of a team has expanded. A development team, including a developer, scrum master and product owner, is no longer enough. A multi-talented team involves all the people needed to produce the desired results. The team is given a vision, a goal and a high level of autonomy in terms of execution.

Powerful Teams provides a structure for building a team

Powerful Teams approaches this theme one step at a time. In the first phase, the team sets up rules on how to work together. First, the members establish a consensus, a mutual understanding, of what is important. These include practices, roles and tasks, expectations and decision-making processes.

I start by asking what my team does. What is the team’s goal? Who assigns tasks to the team? Who prioritises the team’s work?

Engage everyone to get the entire team committed

What lies at the core of consensus is that everyone is engaged. Thumbs-up voting is a quick way to check that everyone is in. Thumbs up: I agree; thumbs sideways: I’m not really sure; thumbs down: I disagree.

This method applies to nearly every situation. Try it.

Mistakes must be allowed in an experimental culture

We are people, and what is essential about people is that none of us is perfect.

Agile methods centre around experiments: we cannot know what works and what does not. This is why experiments often fail.

Children who play have no fear of failure. They try everything they can, and many experiments seem hopeless in the eyes of adults. However, children do not know this – they experiment. And they learn.

We lost this experimental culture somewhere along the way towards adulthood. We try to avoid failure, some more than others.

One characteristic of a well-functioning team is that mistakes are allowed. By accepting the possibility of failure, we are ready to try more and enable creative solutions.

Mis-takes – many takes are required for success

Christopher Avery compares experiments to a clapperboard.

A film consists of many takes started by clapping the clapstick. When “mis” is added before “takes”, the result is “mistakes”. Many takes are required for success.

A common set of rules is set up at the beginning of team coaching. One cornerstone of these rules is that everyone can make mistakes. After all, we all make them.

There is no right or wrong – only solutions that work or do not

I try to avoid the words right and wrong. This is what I have learned from Powerful Teams. Instead, I say this works or this does not work, or this does not work that well.

This is a small semantic detail, but it changes our mindset. For example, if I ask for comments or set up an assignment, I no longer say “right”. This might make someone else think that the way they think is wrong and fall silent. Instead, I say: Thank you! Try it.

Powerful Teams and establishing a consensus

Christopher Avery’s Powerful Teams sets a framework for establishing a consensus. I will discuss this next.

When the first coaching session was ending, I asked the team members to vote whether this was useful in any way. “Maybe there was something,” a dissident said. “Thank you,” I replied. A small victory!


Written by

Mikko Olin and Teemu Torvelainen

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