top of page
  • Writer's pictureValentina Zanetti

How to Choose The Ingredients for a Great Agile Team

More important than any protocol, procedure, methodology or framework you use, more important than any plan and any metric - is your team! Choose them well!

Agile Alchemist's Ingredients for Great Teams

Last blog post, I wrote about the tools and processes that can be used to create great products. I left the most important thing for last - the people who create great products. This is the first in line of a series of blog posts about developing agile teams. I'll start by writing about forming great teams first, continue through storming and conflict resolution, norming and stabilizing teams, and ultimately, about reaching the well-performing team status, creating sustainability and constant improvement.

The Right People - The Most Important Ingredient of Great Teams

Much like a good brew is all about the quality of its ingredients, a good digital product - a product of knowledge work - highly depends on the team that is creating the product. Let's consider them the ingredients for the purpose of this article. Quality ingredients are an integral part of any solution, and no amount of mixing, cooking or stirring can make low-quality ingredients produce a good solution. In addition, one rotten apple, if not removed in time, can spoil the whole batch.

That is why it's crucial to choose your team well!

What are some of the most common pitfalls I've noticed while working on my various digital and non-digital projects and products, when it comes to forming teams?

The Jackhammer to a Nail Problem

Oftentimes, in a desire to secure the maximum possible knowledge base and skillset for our products, product owners (and other stakeholders) choose specialists that are grossly overqualified for the task at hand. It seems logical, at first. Even the higher investment seems reasonable, to ensure the least risk to the development as possible.

Product Owners and other stakeholders often forget, however, that knowledge work isn't that simple, and a lot of its success lies in motivation. In other words - a team member that isn't challenged is a team member that is underutilized. Additionally, if a team member isn't learning anything new, they're stalled in their growth, so this is a double-edged sword. You're missing out on the motivational factor for your product, as well as stifling the growth of a premium specialist, who should be doing R&D or creating new proofs of concept, innovating and disseminating knowledge.

Too many times have I seen lower-tier specialists doing an amazing job simply because they're more motivated. Too many times have I seen a team member with an eagerness to learn and prove themselves bring that little something extra to the table that differentiates a good product from a GREAT product.

Instead of bringing in the best possible talent to do a simple job, in my experience, a better way to go is to allow a lower-tier team member the support and the access to knowledge, and the opportunity to perform.

Diversity Matters

The next thing I've seen shift the tide from good to GREAT, is team diversity. Your clients aren't a homogeneous group - why should your team be?

The science is also here to back this up, with studies by Lee & Xia (2010), Russo & Stol (2022) and Rodríguez-Pérez, Nadri & Nagappan (2021), to name a few, proving that diverse teams work better on solving complex problems, produce better quality results and deliver greater business value. There are issues with team conflict with such teams, but quality storming, transparency and trust usually dissipate this in the long-term.

Diversity brings different perspectives, and different perspectives bring new ideas, so it's always a good idea to purposefully diversify your teams, whether it's age, cultural, ethnical, gender or neurological diversity. It will grant you insights and perspectives you wouldn't have with a homogeneous group and it will help you tap into unexploited market opportunities.

Diversity is a strong asset! Use it!

T-Shaped Experts

A T-shaped expert is someone who has deep familiarity with a certain domain (symbolized by the I in the T), but also has a breadth of more-or-less superficial knowledge about adjacent topics. For example: a highly-skilled senior backend developer, expert in .NET, but also familiar with JavaScript, with a basic working knowledge of frontend frameworks, and a familiarity best UI/UX practices, product ownership, and team mentoring and/or management.

Because of the breadth of their knowledge, experts with T-shaped skills facilitate communication between the team. Their ability to have a broad overview of the issues and understand other team members' areas of expertise provides the necessary glue your team needs and insights in how to best deliver business value. The best performing teams have at least one - oftentimes multiple T-shaped experts.

It's also crucial to enable and cultivate an environment where shaping skills outside team members' areas of expertise is welcomed and encouraged. And not only for expanding the breadth of their knowledge, but also deepening their area of expertise.

Expanding beyond one's area of expertise can be humbling and it allows team members to better empathize with each other. It will provide deeper insights and more exploitable learning, provide a better overview of the product you're building, and foster a growth mindset and a collaborative attitude.

The Growth Mindset

The last, but by no means the least of the things to consider when forming a product team - having a growth mindset.

It'd be great for each team member to have a growth mindset - a willingness to learn, to explore, and to experiment, but this is rarely possible. However, when forming a team, in my experience, it's best to get as many people having 'learning' as one of their primary objectives in mind. It's also very important to cultivate this mindset on a daily basis. Use your retrospectives, but also your planning and daily meetings to explore what could be done better, if anyone has any new ideas on how to approach an issue. Foster experimenting and constant improvement until it's simply 'business as usual'. The 'less experimental' members of your team will adjust and acclimate to this way of working when they see it's safe, welcomed and encouraged.

The Bad Apples...

Unfortunately, oftentimes we make the wrong call, the wrong judgement or just miss some red flags, and we allow a 'bad apple' onto the team.

Now, remember, 'bad apples' don't necessarily mean bad people. It's people who are having trouble coping with the team, the product, the relationships or the innovative ways of working. Not everyone is cut out for agility, some people don't like straying away from what's familiar and they will resist in whichever way they can.

The trick is - don't force them. Toxic behavior and maladaptation is usually a result of some core fear - fear of failure, fear of underperforming, an impostor syndrome, or fear of being seen as poorly skilled. And trying to force someone in a situation they obviously don't feel safe in will only exasperate the situation.

Talk to the 'bad apples', ask them what problems they're having with the team, with the product or with you, maybe, try to get to the core of the problem. However, if the toxic behavior persists, and relationships within the team are hindered, at a point - you'll need to cut the 'bad apple' team member loose.

As mentioned earlier - it takes only one rotten apple to ruin the whole batch, if you don't remove it on time. Don't ruin your team's dynamic over a single person who would be happier elsewhere, anyway.


While good ideas, quality product management and a healthy company environment are all necessary - they're only necessary for one thing in knowledge work - to enable knowledge working teams. And enabling a great team means pairing the right people together as well!

Bringing in people with the right ratio of skill and motivation, a diverse background with different perspectives, T-shaped skillsets and a growth mindset will put you well on your way to making your team a GREAT one!

Next post I'll still be writing about team forming, but next time you'll be able to read all about how to introduce and initiate team collaboration in a healthy and productive way! Subscribe on the homepage to keep up!

66 views0 comments


bottom of page