“Shannon Sharpe and the Four Characteristics of Great Agile Teams” Terry Bunio, Protegra

Aug 23, 2011 | Corporate Member News

Shannon Sharpe reacts to the crowd after receiving his gold jacket at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival inductees dinner Friday, Aug. 5, 2011 at the Memorial Civic Center in Canton, Ohio. Credit: AP Photo/The Repository, Scott Heckel.

After listening to Shannon Sharpe’s emotional speech for induction into the National Football League Hall of Fame, I’d like to share my thoughts about teams on Agile projects.I thought about how much I would have liked to be on Shannon Sharpe’s teams. How much I would have enjoyed being around someone who cared so much about playing, succeeding, and winning. How he balanced having fun with never losing sight of the end goal.


The overused definition for a team is:

“A team comprises a group of people linked in a common purpose.” – Wikipedia

The definition for a project team is:

“A team used only for a defined period of time and for a separate, concretely definable purpose, often becomes known as a project team. Managers commonly label groups of people as a “team” based on having a common function. Members of these teams might belong to different groups, but receive assignment to activities for the same project thereby allowing outsiders to view them as a single unit. In this way, setting up a team allegedly facilitates the creation, tracking and assignment of a group of people based on the project in hand. The use of the “team” label in this instance often has no relationship to whether the employees are working as a team.” – Wikipedia

I was somewhat shocked in the acknowledgement that project teams are usually not teams, but project groups. I know we have all been on great teams and not so great teams. What separates one from the other? When does a group of individuals stop being just a group and start being a team?

The four characteristics of a great Agile Team

I believe there are four characteristics of great teams.

1. They care about each other

Great teams care about each other. Not just the chit-chat in the morning as you are standing around the water cooler, but the honest interest and care about every team member. Can a great team not like each other? I’m honestly not sure. Maybe a good team can not like each other, but to be a great team I believe you have to care about one another. I believe you have to be friends and not just co-workers or acquaintances. This may mean that some skilled individuals may not be the best team mates as they don’t have the same level of care and concern that the other team mates may have.

Most importantly, they need to care about the client. There can’t be a division between the development team and the client. The client needs to be the one they care most about. If they care about the client and fellow team mates, the project is usually in good hands.

2. They respect the ‘game’, are driven to win the ‘game’, and are ‘students of the game’

Almost all great teams are respectful of the ‘game’ or process and are ‘students of the game’. They strive to learn and get better, they are never satisfied with being just good enough. They love to learn and are always striving to improve.

But most importantly, they respect the game. They never complete a task halfway to just say it was done. They never complete a document grudgingly, they never give anything but their best effort. They understand this is unprofessional and is cheating themselves and not respecting those they have learned from.

I don’t usually hear the term winning when it comes to projects. I think we have reduced our expectations for projects so much that we are usually happy with just ‘Meets Expectations”. Great teams push each other to not just meet expectations but win the project. Meeting the budget and delivering the agreed scope should not be good enough, we should always strive to do more and never be satisfied. A  project with a green status is really just a ‘C’ grade. We need to strive for the ‘A+’ again. Great teams do this.

I think bringing the concept of winning back to project teams would help the teams strive for continuous improvement. We need to think about how we can win the game with the largest score. And the opponent is not the client or scope. The opponent is the challenge of the project and the client and the development team is working together to deliver the most value.

Although these traits are individual traits, great teams will self-police and demand this from their team members.

3. They sacrifice

Great teams have individuals that sacrifice for each other and for the team. There are no personal agendas, there are no egos. They will do whatever it takes to ensure the project, the team, and their teammates are successful. This is why agile projects stress cross-functional teams. This aspect removes most of the ‘that isn’t my job’ discussions.

This aspect is a consequence of caring for each other. When people truly care about each other, it is very easy to sacrifice for each other.

4. They have fun

Great teams need to have fun while they are going about their business. If not, the team will usually break apart under the stress of the project. Great team mates have the ability to create an environment where other team mates can be relaxed and have fun. This is a critical skill.

How do you create a great team?

I remember one man telling me that great teams and projects are made by ‘putting together people with good hearts and letting them do what they believe in’. This is very true. People with good hearts care about others, strive to always improve personally and are never satisfied, sacrifice for each other, and are usually very easy to smile.

The challenge is finding these people with good hearts. Some of them develop the characteristics of a good team-mate at home, some at school, and some at work. They are all developed under the care of other people with good hearts, people like Mary Porter. Shannon Sharpe’s granny showed all of these traits to Shannon Sharpe. We should all be so lucky to have a granny of our own once in our lives to show us how to be a good team-mate. 

This article appeared in the latest edition of Protegra Insights. The newsletter also included:     

  • How “IBEX” built Canada’s most advanced online payroll system and workplace culture
  • Java is Dead? Not by a long shot… 
  • Software Development and Evolution Conference 2011 

Access the newsletter here.

Protegra helps organizations in a variety of industries and government around the world identify and solve tough business performance challenges.  Protegra offers management consulting services focused on operational efficiencies.  For organizations that use information technology for competitive advantage, Protegra offers software development and evolution services and solutions. 

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