📬 The Backlog

📬 The Backlog is Thomas van Zuijlen's weekly newsletter on practical agility, with annotated articles on Scrum, facilitation, collaboration, and (product) development.

23 January 2023

📬 The Backlog #196

What science says about team fluidity, why you can’t just cancel all meetings, and how dozens of pundits see remote-first’s path in 2023.

  1. I’m reading a lot about flexible and/or temporary teams. A clear and carefully-worded overview of available evidence-based academic research into team stability is provided in Christiaan Verwijs’s article In-Depth: Stable Or Fluid Teams? What Does The Science Say?.

    Research so far favours stable teams, because their long-term stability is conducive to factors (social cohesion, ‘muscle memory’, team climate) that enable high-performance.

    That doesn’t mean, Verwijs offers, that fluid teams have no place. Circumstances can occur that necessitate or promote fluid team membership. But care must be taken, writes Verwijs, as “every time the membership of a team changes, part of [the team’s social] fabric has to be rewoven in order to regain the same level of performance. And that takes time and conscious effort.”

    I’ll leave you with Verwijs’s recommendation that resonated with me most:

    “For those organizations that want to experiment with fluid teaming, it is wise to assess their capabilities to support, train and develop stable teams. The support structure that is necessary there will be even more important as teams become more fluid. If organizations are unable to develop high-performing teams from mostly stable teams, it is very unlikely they will succeed with more fluid team designs.”

  2. Support structures also matter elsewhere. Twist’s Becky Kane writes about why async work experiments fail, in a piece with the delicious title You can’t just cancel 76,500 hours of meetings. Which is precisely what Shopify recently did, by banning meetings with a guest list longer than two people.

    It’s not going to end well, argues Kane, unless supported by broader policy, because the underlying triggers that made people call a meeting in the first place aren’t going anywhere. Meetings are just the top of an iceberg.

    “[A]ny strategy that myopically focuses on canceling meetings from the top down without a more nuanced, holistic, and inclusive approach to what will replace them risks falling back into old, or even worse, habits. It’s easy to wipe meeting time off the calendar – it’s much harder to build up an async-first culture, system, and habits to replace it.”

    The article includes an excellent explanatory illustration worthy of saving on your phone. Plus a few statements that are (transparently) nudging you into the direction of trying out Kane’s product.

  3. And on that note: Iwo Szapar curates a list of 44 Remote-First Predictions for 2023, a maddeningly long collection of opinions written by people with something to sell you.

    Of course that’s what you get when you open a page with a bunch of (literal) predictions, but I was still disappointed by just how thinly-veiled some of this content is. Also the remote-work angle has seldom been wider, with pieces like “Metaverse as a corollary playing with web3”.

    Anyway, once you get through the accessibility nightmare this Web page represents - how can a person or a page generator so badly mess up a bunch of text with links? - you will find handy quotes from pundits and experts to suit the purpose of your presentation to Management.

Shrug it off and Scrum on,
Thomas van Zuijlen