Yoda: A key role in Agile?

One of the key strengths of the Agile manifesto is the principle is that the team is self-organising. From these first principles we can anticipate that team roles will emerge from organising in this kind of way, rather than by way of a contrast, the roles being assigned by management. When we say ‘team roles’ we are not referring to technical roles such as Developer, Tester or Product Owner or Scrum Master, rather, we are referring to sociological functions; that enable the team members to ‘perform’ to high quality or best-in-class standards.


This ‘division of labour’ if you like between product delivery/execution and team sociological and/or psychological needs goes back a long way in team theory, and many of us can recall Belbin’s Team Inventory from his seminal book ‘Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail’ back in 1981. His typology was based on teams from a broad range of industries and included eight roles such: Chairman, Shaper, Plant, Monitor-Evaluator, Company Worker, Resource Investigator, Team Worker, and Completer-Finisher. Later, the notion of the Specialist was added.

Sharpening our focus more specifically on Agile IT teams, one recent study researched 58 Agile practitioners from 23 software organizations in New Zealand and India. What was fascinating is that they discovered that the roles, if and of themselves, emerged from the self organising processes underpinning Agile. To be fair, we might expect this, but this empirical evidence over a four-year period, adds to our body of professional knowledge. The authors used open-ended interviews to allow the research themes to develop (rather than impose their schema on the research) and they report finding these roles: Mentor, Coordinator, Champion, Promoter, and Terminator/Finisher. (see Hoda et al (2013) in Software Engineering, IEEE Transactions, Vol 39 (3).

From a Business Psychology perspective, what I found interesting was some of the similarities between the Mentor role and Jung’s archetype for what he called the ‘wise old man’. This role is characterised, or represented as a kind, ethical and often older Father-type ‘figure’ who draws on his deep knowledge and experience of people (what we might refer to in the 21st Century as emotional or people intelligence) to offer guidance, coaching, support and encouragement to help others. The coaching insights/ discussions help others to access deeper self-resilience and an improved sense of who they are, and who they might become, thereby acting as a Mentor.

Sometimes when appearing in dreams, Jung claimed that the wise old man might in some ways be seen as Other- that is to say from a foreign culture, country or set of values. In extreme cases sometimes like a liminal being of some description. I think that Yoda from Star Wars would be a more modern ‘take’ on this archetypal role. (By the way the new Star Wars trailer is very exciting! Bring-on December!).

When located in a story, there is a key turning-point in the narrative, when the wise old man naturally dies, or is murdered, or at times sacrifices himself to enable the Hero to take his rightful place in the story. As you might recognise by now from one of your favourite stories… because of the additional self-knowledge, and awareness gained from his relationship with his Mentor, the Hero can claim the rightful victory before the next turn in the text.

But what about us today in our Agile world? Well, it would be all to simple to make the erroneous link that the Mentor equals the Scrum Master. We, of course, have to be careful not to make this mistake. Recall that from the first principle of self-organisation, we know that these roles are not prescribed, but rather emerge from the team itself. Therefore, we can expect and anticipate that different team members, as individuals, will emerge as the ‘wise old man’ or or ‘wise old woman’ at any given time- given the team psychological and sociological needs of the Sprint in question.

To me this sounds and feels both flexible and life affirming, and ‘gives permission’ for us to see our own personalities, and strengths, in much more fluid, productive, open and transformative ways.

May the Force be with… You?

Take Care, Jason.




Lewis Hamilton winning the Grand Prix: Lessons for Agile teams?

We all like to win! And I am no exception! There’s something thrilling and life affirming about beating the odds; winning despite genuine difficulties and overcoming set-backs to finally win at something that’s important to us. Some would argue that one of the things that ‘defines’ winners is their personal resilience. Next their humility is also key as many commentators note that when exceptional sports people lose they learn how to ‘dig in deep’ and learn from their failures. This deep learning is important for future success.

So with this ‘winning’ theme this week it was Lewis Hamilton that gained my attention (and many others too!). There is no doubt that he is a very talented race driver. This week I saw him win the Bahrain Grand Prix with an impressive victory. Behind the winning driver there is, of course, a whole team helping him to win.


From the outset this includes the car design itself which often includes new innovations and cutting-edge technologies. Next, there are the ways by which the innovative design is ‘converted’ into a robust and agile build. Next, there is of course the plethora of testing to ensure that the car is reliable, stable and so on.

Once we get the car ‘on the race track with the driver content that it meets his requirements and expectations we have the team that ensure that once he’s ‘on the road’ that he has every possibility of success this is the all important pit team. Each and every millisecond (quite literally) ‘counts’ as the significant difference between success and defeat.

Take the last race as a case in point:


In terms of the race history and analysis it seems to me that there are three key facts.

Firstly, the two laps between Vettel’s first stop and Hamilton’s meant that the world champion rejoined the track with Rosberg and Vettel right behind him! This naturally prompted Hamilton to rightly ask: “What the heck happened to my lead?”

Next, the answer to his question adds weight to my previous point around the importance of the pit team; as the harsh reality was that Hamilton had a slow pit stop. When we combine the slow pit stop with the advantage of new tyres for his opponents or what we refer to as ‘fresh rubber’ -that these two factors had allowed Rosberg and Vettel to make up time on Hamilton and this was the reason the ‘gap’ had closed in on him. This in the racing world is known as the ‘undercut’.

To his credit Hamilton did not let this closing gap in his lead to frustrate him, so that he lost his focus, energy or determination quite the opposite in fact, as again, he skillfully and steadily built-up his lead until the next set of pit stops. At this stage in the race, Team Mercedes took the rightful tactic to stop Hamilton first so as to ensure there was no threat from behind, as in the previous scenario. Hamilton then went on to win!

High performance teams! They truly underpin innovative and cutting-edge products and services.

I’d like to share seven ways by which collaborative teams communicate qualitatively   differently when compared to less effective teams. Now to be fair these are broad themes/examples taken from my own empirical observations, but none-the-less, I hope that they are added value and thereby worth sharing in this method.

It seems to me that individuals, or team members, from high performance teams, can be often heard to say things like these when they are seeking to improve what they are doing together as a team:-

  1. I’d like to add to what Peter has said by adding that…
  2. I think we can take what Jane and Jack have shared so far and by bringing their insights together I think this would help us to…
  3. Kalee’s insight is important for us and I think we can develop this further by…
  4. Az we all recognise that you have expertise in this area; can you be our ‘critical friend’ and gently tease-out what our assumptions have been and see what this helps us to learn?
  5. I find Aaron’s contribution really exciting and I think he’s on to something here; I can’t contribute right now but just need a short time to reflect on this idea for a minute or two
  6. Can we draw a diagram of Rachel’s idea and play with it for a short while? I need to ‘see it’ so I can add value to her contribution…
  7. Mo is on to something really quite important the best way that I can connect with this emergent idea is by sharing the one drawback so we can co-create this development further

As you can quickly see this style of communication is under-written by a type of appreciation for one another. Each team member recognises, values and collaborates with others. They further develop their emergent ideas. Even when they are acting as ‘critical friends’ it is framed in a collaborative way. Next, some team members seem skillful in ‘connecting’ different ideas from various team members and further integrating or synthesising them. Lastly, this is no room for ‘group-think’ in here. The framing/espoused or ‘first’ principles of honesty, respect and commitment are evidently embodied personal values by which the team co-create grounded solutions.

Take care Jason.