How Do Scrum Teams Form?

Professional sporting has a successfully proven approach to team formation. The NBA builds teams based on off-season workouts, drafts, the lottery, and trades, considering external factors like salary caps, skills, and team fit. They even have minor leagues with up-and-comers to help them create the most competitive teams in the world. Organizations put much care and deliberation in these efforts. That’s not unlike how scrum teams form.

Like professional sports teams, organizations must take the same care and deliberation in building their teams. With fewer team-forming resources available, businesses often ask about the best approach in forming scrum teams. The key is selecting the right motivated people, giving them the environment and support they need, then trusting them to get the job done. In other words, following agile principle 5.

In this article, we’ll discuss a proven approach to forming high-performing scrum teams.

1. Reference agile values and principles

Product development requires long-term, nearly permanent teams. Forming enduring teams is not a simple task. As with most team decisions, the agile values and principles offer some excellent guidance.

Agile values

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

These values remind us to form teams with members who value people and interactions over processes and tools. We appreciate having teammates who have the necessary skills to create a “potentially shippable” product increment each sprint, who can collaborate well with others, particularly customers, and who understand the importance of responding to change over following a plan.

Agile principles

Consider the following agile principles as well:

  • Agile Principle #4: Businesspeople and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • Agile Principle #5: Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • Agile Principle #6: The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  • Agile Principle #8: Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  • Agile Principle #11: The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • Agile Principle #12: At regular intervals, the team reflects on becoming more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

In summary, the agile principles suggest you’ll want to form physically collocated, cross-functional teams empowered to meet your customer’s needs. You’ll want them to work at a sustainable pace and have the freedom to self-organize and improve; however they see fit. Their motivation will come from autonomy, purpose, and mastery as they work as a team.

2. Ensure the team’s success with the ATT

Based on principle 5, begin by forming the ATT (Agile Transition Team). The ATT is a team of leaders who own the status quo and can change the organization. Any teams formed will need executive sponsorship to be successful.

The environment will constrain the team’s pace. Not only will the ATT lead by example in using scrum to deliver the agile maturity roadmap, but they also remove impediments restricting the teams and preventing them from reaching their full potential. ATT support is critical for any team formed.

3. Form a pilot scrum team

Once you establish the ATT, the next team to form should be a pilot scrum team. Use this team as a true pilot, meaning the product they’ll use to learn agile fundamentals is low-risk yet valuable. The pilot’s purpose is to gain experience using scrum, which can be challenging if the team is simultaneously dealing with a lot of product risk. Having a product development effort positioned for success helps the team to learn the fundamentals as quickly as possible. “Pilot” does not refer to the team being short-lived, as you’ll want to form teams to endure as long as they possibly can.

Each team will navigate Tuckman’s four phases of forming, storming, norming, and finally performing. Once a team is performing, you’ll want to avoid breaking up the team so they can maintain their high-performance pace.

4. Choose a decisive product owner

The first role to get right is the product owner. The product owner is the product expert and represents the voice of the customer to the team. They set the vision with stakeholders, are decisive, and make tough investment and financial trade-off decisions.

As a peer member of the team, they’ll need to be available and responsive to any development team questions. Most of their work will be understanding customer needs, balancing those with stakeholder feedback, which is not an easy role to fill. Most organizations select product owners from their pool of top performers then backfill their vacated responsibilities.

5. Select a cross-functional, talented development team

Next, identify the development team. You’ll need enough development team members to build a working product increment. The team should consist of people with various levels of experience and skills who can elaborate, design, develop, test, integrate, deploy, and automate unit tests, regression tests, and code promotions. Most organizations create a team with three to six members. You’ll want your top performers on the team because their success will create momentum for helping others to transition to scrum. Backfill their vacated roles, as necessary.

6. Find a servant leader scrum master

Lastly, and not least, find the scrum master. Select the person with the strongest servant leadership tendencies. Choose the person most interested in the team’s success and helping your organization become more agile (an agile champion).

Scrum masters are excellent facilitators, both with small and large groups. Scrum masters need organizational clout to help the team overcome difficult impediments. Support from a professional coach will help the scrum master to learn his or her new role. Backfill the scrum master’s vacated role, as necessary.

Rinse and repeat

As the pilot team gains traction with the ATT and professional coaching support, their consistent delivery of valuable working product increments is a sign the organization is ready to expand its agile footprint. The same rigor used to create the pilot team is necessary for the second and all future teams.

Allow each team to self-organize in creating their product vision and roadmap, definition of done, and team working agreement. These will be important for the team’s purpose and to establish team “norms.” Avoid the temptation to use formed teams as seeds to create new teams.

Reap the benefits!

Establishing high-performing teams begins by carefully selecting the right people who will make the team successful. Follow that up with scrum training, organizational support, and professional coaching, and you’ll see amazing results.

Referring to working on a team, Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization, said, “People talk about being part of something larger than themselves, of being connected, of being generative. It becomes quite clear that, for many, their experiences as part of truly great teams stand out as singular periods of life lived to the fullest.”

Truly great teams don’t assemble overnight. With careful selection of team members, adhering to the agile values and principles, and executive sponsorship, the experience can stand out as one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of your employees’ careers.

Need help forming a scrum team? Or ensuring it’s high-performing? Contact us today to learn more.


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