The principles of Agile delivery may have had their foundations in tech product development, but the concept of organising cross-functional delivery squads is something that can benefit any organisation that needs to achieve greater efficiency and cohesion in working towards project outcomes.
Working in a squad may be a break away from the more traditional functional team that most organisations are used to. We’ve broken down the advantages that come with this approach, and the steps you can take to make change happen in your organisation.
What makes a squad different to a team?
A squad is a cross-functional, autonomous group, responsible for the end-to-end delivery of a particular product, project or initiative. Squads include people from each function (or discipline) within a business required to fulfil the outcome. Each member of a squad is fulfilling a role vs an individual, so it’s easier to move or replace people within their roles and still operate as an effective squad. Squads don’t necessarily rely on other teams to get their work done. Members of a squad don’t necessarily work across all products or projects within the organisation, and may work on projects or deliverables separately from others within their own function or ‘chapter’.
Why traditional team structures aren’t working
When you have teams who fulfil a particular function within a business working across multiple projects or deliverables, they each have competing priorities. They’re required to be reactive to requests, and are constantly context switching between deliverables or projects, creating lag between the exchange of information and downtime between tasks. When they’re trying to do all things for everyone, both pace and quality are eroded. It takes longer for outcomes to be achieved, meaning less predictability around deadlines.
The benefits of working as a delivery squad
Having one squad committed to one project at a time means they’re better connected to the objectives, don’t have competing priorities and can maintain higher levels of in-sync productivity and collaboration. Here are 6 more advantages:
Squads are ring-fenced, meaning they are assigned a problem to solve or a task to deliver. Because they are not context switching between jobs, they can focus their time on fulfilling the assigned outcome. They’re largely working in sync, with less lag time between sharing information, and can better collectively adapt to evolving demands of a project.
Easier capacity planning
Squads plan together in line with their collective capacity. By removing competing priorities and reactive work, it’s easier to meet expected deadlines by minimising downtime, and predicting project velocity.
Greater sense of team
Squads have a unified goal. Despite being from different disciplines, they’re more likely to work collaboratively, supporting each other to deliver results. Squads are respectful of time; you’ll find daily meetings are more focused on productive outcomes, with increased engagement from everyone within the squad.
Reduced knowledge silos
Squad members have knowledge of every part of the project, and the role and contribution of others, not just their own discipline. Squad-based teams are also less likely to face significant disruption if a member leaves or takes time off.
Connection to purpose
Because squads are goal-oriented, members have a greater connection to the end outcome of a project, and with it, stronger sense of satisfaction. With connection comes purpose; a sense of contribution to something bigger and more meaningful.
Because each member fulfils a particular role, squads are inherently more resilient to change, such as employee turnover. With greater knowledge transfer and transparency between squad members, your outcomes aren’t dependent on one individual within a function.
How to run effective squads
Start with one delivery project. Elect someone within your organisation (who has done delivery before) to lead and learn from. A leader should have a general understanding of all roles within the squad - enough knowledge to be able to funnel work within it.
Establish a team charter - these are agreements on how the team will work together. Then use regular retrospective meetings to reflect on learnings, achievements and improvements to team dynamics.
Accept that you won’t necessarily get it right the first time. It takes time for squad members to get into a new rhythm of delivery and adapt to new ways of working.
And if you’re still feeling uncertain about how cross-disciplinary squads could actually work for your organisation, that’s where we can help. Reach out for a no-obligation conversation and we can tell you more about how to get started.