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The Dynamic Stability of High Performing Teams
Watch your step.
Take a moment, get up from where you're sitting, and take a short walk. Not far. Maybe 10 or 20 meters. You probably need the break anyway, so take a long walk if you’d like. As you walk, randomly freeze your motion and hold it for a count of 10. Maybe one foot is in the air behind you or ahead of you. Maybe just the heal of your forward foot is touching the ground. Do this a couple of times. I'll wait. Enjoy the break...
Thinking back on those moments you paused at some point during a stride, how stable did you feel? Depending on where you were in your stride, you probably felt somewhat stable to very unstable. Walking is essentially a continuously unstable action. Stop our motion at any point and we soon discover how hard it is to keep our balance in that frozen pose. It's the movement, the momentum that keeps us from falling.
Teamwork is inherently unstable in the way walking is unstable. If the team isn't moving, if it isn’t continuously seeking improvement, than at best it's headed for stagnation and ossification. If it hasn't reached a state less active than a rock in winter, then it's almost certainly out of balance. The interesting questions become: Is this a good thing or a bad thing and how do you know?
As with walking, teams will stumble, perhaps even fall (fail.) A healthy team will recover quickly, leverage their retrospectives to determine what happened, adjust, and continue to move forward. Wiser from the experience, they're less likely to stumble or fail in the same way. This is the mark of a high performing team that has achieved dynamic stability. They walk the walk, as we say.
Fear not, my lord, we will not stand to prate; Talkers are no good doers: be assured We come to use our hands and not our tongues. - William Shakespeare, Richard III
On the other end of the spectrum, unhealthy teams also stumble and fall. Except they do so in a way that is resembles a drunk staggering out from a bar at 2 AM. Little things trip them up and they excel at tripping over themselves. They are repeatedly tripped up by the same things, like the drunk that can't seem to figure out how to solve the curb. They are loud, argumentative, and blame anything and anybody for the predicament in which they find themselves. Reflection and introspection by such a team is about as articulate and meaningful as the drunk's prayers to the porcelain god.
It’s the Agile coach and scrum master’s job to help teams find their stride and keep them moving forward in a way that is balanced and healthy. It’s the teams responsibility to stay sober and do the work.