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How to Know When the Team is Broken

We talk about high performing teams. But what about broken teams? How can you tell when a team isn’t performing?

How do you measure what it means for a team to perform?

Do you measure it in story points? In stories or tasks completed? In delivered software artifacts? In sprints done? In refinement sessions? In happy customers? In reviews? Individually or together?

How can you spot a broken team?

Here’s a few things that I’ve noticed:

  • Broken teams often don’t want to talk to each other.
  • However, broken teams often don’t want to be split up.
  • Broken teams often work harder than high performing teams but with fewer results.
  • Broken teams are unhappy at their work and sometimes also in their personal lives. The line between work and life can blur.
  • Broken teams can polarise the rest of your engineering organisation around their opinions. This can be highly dangerous.

None of these can be measured by your engineering metrics or your dashboards. Broken teams are working just like the rest, they might be working harder, but they are not happy, they are rigid, they are inefficient and they are bad for your organisation.

The first, and perhaps shocking step, is to realise that you, as a leader, are a big contributor to their unhappiness. Either through action or inaction, you have let them down. Your role is to make sure that you provide a framework which enables all of your engineers to work happily and effectively.

Acknowledging that will help you understand how you can start help to rebuild.