A Lesson on Teamwork Values From Rugby SCRUMs
I’m fascinated by the workings of agile teams – both what creates a high-performing team and how an individual team member can affect organizational health and performance.
Recently, I’ve noticed a resurgence of information on agile organizations. Not being an OD or HR expert, I spent some time researching the agile framework, which in turn led me to learn about SCRUM–a team building and teamwork methodology that takes its name from rugby.
So What are Agile and SCRUM?
The agile movement began as a methodology for developing complex software in an iterative process; rather than a start-to-finish project which did not allow for flexibility or scope change, iterative processes allow for a sequence of versions that lead successively closer to the desired result.
Agile methodology began to be researched, taught, and implemented in the mainstream business world as an alternative to “waterfall” project management that implies a continuously forward-moving process with only one outcome. Key to the agile framework is an incremental process, where the project moves forward when the outcomes of one iteration inform the start of the next.
SCRUM—a word taken from rugby’s scrimmage line—can be described as a subset or flavor of agile and describes the process of how teams work together to quickly process scope change, manage volatility, react to market forces, and restart the “play.” In other words, it describes a team that is flexible, highly communicative, responsive, disciplined, and able to complete complex projects within specialized small teams.
Similar to how an athletic team may have individual players with specialized roles organized around a common goal, SCRUM has key roles to be implemented and the team remains self-organizing. To be effective, however, the team must work together united by the values that SCRUM is built on.
SCRUM is unique in how it emphases individuals and interactions, not processes or tools, to meet team goals. While a definitive definition and implementation of SCRUM is quite complex, it also is organized around some easy to understand values that all teams would benefit from exploring.
Those values–Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect, and Courage–are defined as follows:
Commitment: The team is governed by realistic goals and an “all in” teamwork approach is mandatory. Goals are realistic and reduced to the smallest, definable denominations possible so that responsibilities are clearly defined and team members can own their commitments.
Focus: With the commitments and goals realistically defined, team members focus on their own tasks with intensity and clarity, knowing that each of the other team members is doing the same. Because the SCRUM process is highly iterative, team members focus on only a few highly specific goals at a time and roadblocks are quickly uncovered and managed.
Openness: One of the critical values of SCRUM is openness and transparency. Each team member’s work must be available for observation, scrutiny, and suggestions for improvement. This can be challenging to team members who feel threatened by collaboration, so it is helpful to think of this not as micromanaging, but as a value based on the agile tenets of empiricism: transparency, inspection, and adaptation. Empiricism asserts that knowledge comes from what is known, an important counterpoint to secrecy.
Respect: A highly valued tenet of SCRUM is respect. This goes beyond the golden rule – be nice to others the way you’d like them to be nice to you — and places the onus on the team to be respectful of each other and also to work respectfully with the strengths and weaknesses of others on the team. Team goals will not be met if there is even one underperformer, so it is for the benefit of the team to work together cohesively.
Courage: Now why would “courage” be called out specifically? SCRUM is fundamentally about honesty – and that can hurt. It takes courage to stand up to a team member, to hold them accountable, and to overcome the “we have always done it this way” or “it’s not my job” mentality. SCRUM is about asking the team what can we learn and asking oneself honestly: Did I do the best job (for my team) that I could have done today?
Ultimately, a team taking on the agile or SCRUM methodology is a large-scale change management and project management issue, not a simple guideline for your next project. An official SCRUM guide I consulted puts it succinctly: Scrum is lightweight, simple to understand, and difficult to master. However, adhering to the values above could benefit many teams who have been troubled by underperformance, a bad apple, or scope creep and help them find a solid foundation for maximizing team potential.