Why sticky agile marketing teams perform better
Teams that stick together like glue have a huge advantage in how well they perform. It’s not about what work they do or the skills they have that gives them the awesome sauce—it’s about how they learn to work together over time.
My daughter plays on a soccer team that’s been the same girls for three years. In the first year together, they were very much a forming team. They didn’t know which girl to pass the ball to, where to stand, who scores the goals, who cheers on the team or who needs extra encouragement. By year two they were storming and norming and they could identify the leaders, the team players, the girls who hustled and the ones that stood back. By year three, the team dynamics were so well understood that from the first day of practice, they knew exactly how the team dynamics would play out.
Forming, Storming, Norming & Performing
The idea of Forming, Storming, Norming & Performing (FSNP) has been around since 1965 when American psychologist Bruce Tuckman proposed the model. It has been used by business teams and in Six Sigma, as well as in project management and agile as a well-proven model for team performance.
FSNP has a ton of data backing it up to show how teams go through the various psychological stages and that only by sticking together over time will they get to the stage of becoming a high performing team.
Bring work to the team
Even though this research on team dynamics has been proven successful in business teams for more than 50 years, most marketing departments take the exact opposite approach, assigning “resources” to a project, then disbanding the project team when the project gets completed. When this happens, teams may start to form, they may even start storming, but before they ever get to performing, we disband them.
I see this happening time and time again because marketing leaders are focusing on the wrong dynamic — they are looking at the short-term and want to make sure all “resources” are “utilized.” So we put people on projects, and most of the time they aren’t just on one project, but several. Not only do they have to start forming new teams, but they are on so many projects with so many different people that their brain power gets zapped just trying to keep it all straight.
In agile marketing, we need to flip this model around. We need to form small teams of people and bring the work to them. The ideal team size is four to six people, but absolutely no more than 10. The small team is able to get to performing a lot quicker than a large team just because there are fewer communication hoops to jump through, and a small group just gets more done than a large group.
A common solution to getting more work done is to put more people on the team. However, there’s an interruption that happens when we do that and it throws off the current team dynamic, so unless it’s to solve a long-term problem, throwing more people on a project won’t make it get done faster.
Sticky teams get more work done
Teams that stick together get more work done, period. They develop their own efficiencies and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and can compensate accordingly. Speed comes to the team because they know the work and they know each other.
I once coached a large company that had invested millions of dollars into an agile transformation, yet couldn’t get their heads around the concept of sticky teams — and team members were expected to be on five or six teams! The constant rotation from team to team meant massive amounts of context switching, which slows down productivity alone. But then take into account that attending five or six teams’ meetings meant, well, all day meetings and zero time to actually do any work.
In my decade coaching agile teams in marketing and other areas, one of the biggest factors to success were the teams that stuck together. These sticky teams that had worked together for at least a year were way more successful than teams that had been trying to be agile for multiple years without dedicated teams.
If you’re just starting out with agile marketing, how you form teams is going to be one of those make it or break it factors. Now, there’s no such thing as the perfect team. There are cases where you’ll have to rely on highly specialized work outside of your team, or you may have agency partners. However, if the majority of the team is solid and sticks together, you’ll set yourself up for success.