Why great ingredients don’t always make a great cake.
Your oven is the wrong temperature.
If you’ve got a command-and-control person trying to facilitate the self-organisation of a cross-functional team, you’re going to be in for a bad time.
You’re substituting ingredients.
A self-organising team knows what skills and behaviours are needed to get its best outcomes. Ask the team what they’re missing, instead of assuming a specific role is required. Don’t compromise on your team’s needs by handing them ‘x-factor-perts’ or alternatives, unless you have strong supporting data as well as team acceptance that they can help.
You’re adding extra ingredients.
For teams trying to understand what each of them bring to the table and self-organise around what’s missing, having that conversation becomes nigh impossible when there’s more than 10 people in the batter — you’re going to end up with banter. It’s also really damaging when the conversation proves some roles/skills as unnecessary, so you’re better off starting with the bare minimum.
You’re using the wrong sized tin.
Match the skillset required, not a prescribed number or pattern of roles. Ask the team what they need to achieve their immediate outcomes, and bring in the fewest possible people required to deliver that. Repeat carefully over time — don’t overdeliver by throwing more people at a problem.
You’re not using a reliable recipe.
You’ve probably applied a framework, a set of roles, or a way of working that is completely inapplicable for the intent or the product of your team. Or maybe, you’ve applied to the letter a method that has shown little to no evidence of success for any other team!
You’re opening the oven door too soon.
Don’t deflate the cake! Let the team find their mojo. Don’t expect to see ground-breaking success in a few weeks — it takes that long just to get to know each other and figure out if the right people are in the room for the job at hand.
You’re taking too long to put the cake in the oven.
You’ve been whisking and beating and fluffing yourselves into a team for weeks, drafting up role descriptions, presenting proposals, sprint plans, proof of concepts and team structures, and getting approval from committees. The best way to find out if the right people are in the room is to give them the freedom to experiment with ways of working using real work, and by taking away the fear of being reprimanded. Facilitate team norming activities while they’re on the journey to ensure that skills and personalities are both right for the team.
You’re not measuring your ingredients accurately.
Don’t copy-paste metrics that worked for another team, and then shame yourselves for not being ‘as good’. Understand what progress means for your team, as it’s the only way for a team to find real opportunities of self-improvement. Do you want to measure and improve output, culture, speed of execution, team health? You can be brave and invent your own measures of progress; it doesn’t matter if no-one else has used “apples” as a metric. If you can define “apples” for your audience, and measure the growth of your orchard, then go for it!
Your raising agents are out-of-date.
Sadly, a lot of us don’t continuously engage in learning and self-development. While there are tried and tested ways of doing a lot of things, there is often an opportunity for something new or different to work even better. When there are different levels of curiosity or desire to grow within a team, that team is likely to coalesce into like-minded specialist blocks that in turn inhibits creativity and diversity of knowledge.
You’re not following the method properly.
If you’re going to use an existing recipe and the cake doesn’t look/taste quite right, you have to have followed the recipe exactly to be able to blame the recipe. I’m not a methodology cultist, but I do believe teams are rarely able to mimic ‘models’ in their entirety and therefore don’t always see the benefits their creators had. It’s unfortunate though that teams often blame the formula when things don’t go according to plan. Recognise the tweaks you’ve made, the environment your ingredients are in, and either address those opportunities directly by creating practices that work for you, or, go back to trying to follow the recipe by the book in order to understand if they really work, and more importantly, if they’ll really work for your team. Maybe you need a gluten-free recipe instead?