It’s not just about teams! – “Agile as a systemic change” presentation at the Italian Agile Day 2010

Agile has been a refreshing wind of change in the software development world. A very much needed one, actually. Yet, I believe these days a big part of the agile community is stuck in a cul-de-sac called the teams!

What’s wrong with teams? Nothing really. Except that… they are just a model! A team is a system. We say a team is a system (many speak, more correctly, of a complex adaptive system), yet what is a system exactly? A “system” is something we determine. In Agile we say a group of developers working on a certain development is a team, i.e. we decide, based on some not better defined power we assume to have, that a group of individuals are now a team and we act as if they were in perfect isolation.

In the systemic theory, a system is an artificial entity, artificially defined. It’s just a model we use to simplify our life when analysing a complex reality. We call this system while knowing that it is anyway in constant exchange with the environment it is in.

Sure enough, the teams – as we defined them and use them in agile – are groups of people working on a dedicated task and, therefore, their closeness justifies to consider them being a team. Or… does it? What about a group of people who work together the whole day with good interactions – from an organisational perspective we would call them a team – but they take any chance to hang out with other colleagues extern to the team. Do they count as a team?

Reality is that a team is just a simplification of real life. Sure, people work together in what the organisation calls teams, but they are interacting every day with many other people in the organisation and outside of it. The organisation itself is not an isolated system: customers, suppliers, authorities, … are all constantly interacting with an organisation, so also an organisation is not an isolated system.

My argument here is: if we as coaches persist in working with/finding techniques to use with/consider only teams we’re losing a big part of our possibilities: we should work also with individuals and with complete organisations.


About the work with individuals, there is IMO a big need of providing people with good communication tools, so that they can better interact among each other. This was the topic of my presentation at WebExpo.

Last Friday instead, at the Italian Agile Day, I proposed some tools to work with organisations: from how to visualise what happens in a system (whatever we define it…), to recognise the values systems used by the people and groups around us, to some not-written-but-valid rules of human systems and the way they interact.

If you understand italian, the slides are here, but I will soon present them at another conference in English. Stay tuned!

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