Team Topologies for the Remote Process Team

When we say “team”. There seems to be a broader idea of a group of people intended to charge at and approach the same goal within an organization. While this isn’t wrong, it can be very isolated. With the advent of modern technology and a new way of working from home comes nuances and facets that make teams and their needs diverse.

Luckily, Team Topologies, a book written by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais seeks to help leaders in that arena. The book discusses mixes of how different team recipes impact organizations and the workforce. For purposes of remote working conditions, Rocket Station will consider all theories that apply to the modern-day scope of working from home and the key factors that Team Topologies help in making the organizational structure more optimal. 

So, where do we begin?

Time matters

It is discussed that teams can take 3 months to make the team more effective in a particular project that is well hashed despite the sum of its numbers. The importance of having teams that stick together and that are given enough time to get to a state of high performance is paramount. 

Numbers matter

The authors make use of Dunbar’s number which highlights how specific numbers of people can work to a facilitated goal. There is a link to strong forms of communication when teams work closely together for a specific purpose, and usually these close-knit teams form a total of 8 people. The limit of people who can all deeply trust each other is 15 and there is also significance of the dynamics of 50 and 150 people.  This not only acts as a guide but helps leaders place limitations and expectations to team designs.

Culture Matters

The better the overall company culture is, the easier changing teams can be, but even in the best cases the research recommends no less than a year for teams to remain within their departments to maintain team culture and prevent it from sporadically shifting.

Minimalism Matters

Let’s make it more efficient by saying, simplification and not over-simplification of team dynamics, matters greatly. To do that you need to consider team responsibilities and make them crystal clear and to minimize and optimize communication. In essence, as you run it, you build it. The book explains that too much back-and-forth communication is costly, and as such isn’t going to help the company thrive. When thinking about communication, it’s important to view it as cost vs. benefit. Teams may communicate and prioritize effectively within their team, external communication across team boundaries is always much more costly and much less effective.  When teams have demands upon other teams, this can: (a) Be disruptive and lead to context switching, (b) start unnecessary queues, delays, and prioritization problems, and (c) create a large communication and management overhead.

Feedback Matters

An organization possesses enough feedback mechanisms to ensure software and service quality is understood as early and clearly as possible.

Mental Load Matters

This book also talks about the importance of Cognitive Load. This describes how much mental load a particular issue or tasks needs to take up in one’s headspace to be done effectively.  Because, whether we like it or not, not all types of thinking effort are the same in nature:

Intrinsic Cognitive Load – this relates to the skill of how to do a task e.g., which buttons to press according to the specific information available and scenario.

Extraneous Cognitive Load – this relates to broader environmental knowledge, not related to the specific skill of the task, but still necessary, e.g., what are the surrounding process admin steps that must be done after this task.

Germane Cognitive Load – this relates to thinking about how to make the work as effective as possible e.g., what should the design be, how will things integrate.

As a team there is a particularly useful idea: cognitive load should be considered in terms of the total amount required by whole teams. In short, when you are thinking about team design and organizational structure, you need to consider how much you are mutually and collectively expecting the team to be able to perform and be good at what they do. Meaning the load shouldn’t be carried by just one person. 

July is Global Enterprise Agility Month, and Rocket Station seeks to become part of this venture by sharing tips, tricks and tools to help people become better leaders, strategic thinkers and team members. 


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