Collective growth or individual expertise?
Throughout a team, knowledge, skills and experience are diverse: while John is comfortable with back office tasks, which he has been working on for 10 years, Mary prefers front office tasks (her favourite subject is technology monitoring) and Peter understands even the project's most minor functional rules. As everyone remains within their comfort zone, they work in parallel, without talking to each other much.
What the others are doing does not really matter as long as it does not affect their own tasks. And it works fine! Until the day John gets ill... Then, it’s a catastrophe! Who will be able to take over his work? What impact will this have on the project? Solutions are always found but they are not always great!
Sharing… A key ingredient for growth?
What if we shared our expertise from now on? Would something be gained individually? And, as a team… what would it mean? So, when Mary comes across a complex “algorithm” in Java and John spends (wastes?) time explaining it to her, coaching her, helping her, working as a pair, is this time wasted? At the time: yes, obviously. But in future, not so much!
Mary has increased her knowledge and her autonomy. She has understood and incorporated John’s best practice and advice. The latter needed to organise his thoughts in order to explain them and, as a result, will be more effective and a better teacher if he needs to explain them again. So, in effect, then, not, immediately… there is a genuine impression of not making progress.
However, if you look at it in the longer term, each of them has boosted their autonomy and their confidence (in themselves and the other person) and broadened their knowledge. More generally, this also enables the practices, rules and understanding of the project (and its challenges) to be standardised. And, as a consequence, the world continues to go round, even if John falls ill!
When Peter explains a functional detail to John or Mary shares her latest discovery in terms of the front office framework with the team, here too everyone benefits. Ultimately it is by helping each other and taking the time to share knowledge that a team of people, who trust each other and is knowledgeable about all the technical and functional aspects of the project, will be more effective in the future.
So what is the relationship with agility?
Evidently, this way of working is valid for all teams, but agility clearly favours this kind of collaboration. In an agile team, each person’s special area of expertise ultimately does not matter much: what is wanted is delivery of value (a great deal if possible!). It is our collective aim and it’s collectively that we will achieve it. Everyone’s particular profession stands aside for the benefit of a team dynamic.
If we replace "Peter" with "Product Owner", his profession is incorporated (or even the customer’s) into the team, while also encouraging interaction and collaboration (these look a lot like two agile values, don't they?). Someone is missing… Oh yes! It is also one of the tasks of the Scrum Master to maximise multi-skilling by members of the team, by creating a favourable working environment and a system for mutual assistance and interactions within the team. No more big egos…
No more super-specialist navel-gazing experts and individual performance! If each team member grows, it’s the team that benefits. So welcome to the era of collaboration, mutual assistance and trust!