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Build a Great Agile Team like Alex Ferguson of Manchester United

Lessons Agile leaders can learn from Sir Alex Ferguson

15 July 2014

Shivakanth Velishala
Dolphin Solutions Inc

Imagine Alex Ferguson has been asked to select a team for the next FIFA soccer World Cup. What would he do? Just pull a team of random people, or would he go by track record and controversies?

The vital but most overlooked ingredient that contributes to making or breaking an Agile team is people. Trusting a random selection of resources is almost certain to break the team. When carefully inducting a set of people, it is not enough to look at the merits of practices -- that is, it is not enough for the team to be cross-functional, co-located, and have their time dedicated to the project. It is also not enough to identify team members by looking at their functional knowledge, technical skills, or specializations. These aspects are key but less important than the attitude, motivation, and potential to come together to form a really great team that everyone cherishes for a lifetime.

Attitude is vital for everyone. Imagine a team member who possesses great knowledge about the products but doesn't gel well with others. Alex would rather have a new graduate engineer like David Beckham -- who was 17 years old when he joined Manchester United but who had a team-centric attitude and a drive to improve the team -- than an experienced developer with vast expertise in specific technical disciplines but poor skills in playing well with others.

Overall, you want a group of people who are happy to collaborate and want the team to succeed. What every team member of a great Agile team needs is an ability, when push comes to shove, to put team goals above personal goals.

Alex Ferguson's mantra

Sir Alex Ferguson got to Manchester in 1986 and overhauled the team's program by finding players as young as nine years old for the youth league. Ferguson said, "I wanted to build right from the bottom. That was in order to create fluency and a continuity of supply to the first team. The players all grow up together, producing a bond that, in turn, creates a spirit. . . . Winning a game is only a short-term gain. . . . Building a club brings stability and consistency."

This applies to Agile teams as well. This one ingredient can completely change the organization, when balanced correctly.


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