Why We’re Backing Teams Over Individuals

When it comes to building world-class custom software at the best value, we’re putting our money on established development teams over individuals, or “assembled teams” - every single time.

Many of us can look back on fond memories of childhood sports teams and recognize the important, formative role that those early team participations had on our adult lives.  This pattern repeats time and again through school, university and into our working lives and beyond.  Aside from the widely understood point about the valuable life lessons of socializing, sharing, listening and collaborating – there is far more to being part of a team.

Synergy and Purpose

Managers construct, shuffle, reconstruct and fine-tune their teams in search of the ultimate goal of achieving a high state of synergy in their teams. But what is synergy?

The word synergy is derived from the Greek word synergos, which means “working together.”  In modern organizational theory, synergy means much more than “working together.”  In business usage, it refers to the ability of two or more units or companies to generate greater value working together than they could working apart.  Synergy is actually a systemic principle that explains how a team's collective performance can far exceed its member’s individual talents and abilities – one plus one can indeed equal three.

Chemistry within a team producing positive synergy and good teamwork can arise from having common values, interests and talents. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/luisromero/2015/12/01/the-ultimate-guide-to-team-synergy/#118bf75052f5 ). Synergistic teams are able to quickly slip into “a groove” and operate in a flow state to achieve the highest level of productivity.  They are bound by highly developed relationships and are an interdependent unit that is able to solve problems in a highly creative and productive way.  Team members can see beyond their own needs to view the team's goals as being equally (or more) important.  There is a great deal of trust and mutual respect within the group.  

But synergy doesn’t happen overnight.  It can take weeks, months, or even years to get right in a team and there are plenty of great pieces that have already covered this here, here and here.

There are other platforms out there that try to tap into team synergy by pulling together ad-hoc teams on project-by-project basis, drawing from a vast pool of individual developers.  Yes, they can create a group in which each of the necessary roles are represented, but are they able to form a team in which 1 + 1 = 3?  We don’t think so, and here is why.  

The psychology and process behind high-performance teams is well documented, but a neat graphic that summarises the key ideas formed from Dr Bruce W. Tuckman’s (1965), ‘Developmental Sequence in Small Groups’, Psychological Bulletin 63:

Stages of Team Development

Dr Bruce Tuckman’s 1965 Team Development Model

This performance curve is self-explanatory and anyone who has ever been involved in any kind of team work will immediately recognize each of the developmental stages – from forming, storming, norming to performing.  You would also realise that the timeline scale on the bottom x-axis is one of weeks, months or longer.  Therefore, assembling a “group” of people on an ad-hoc basis for a project does not a team make.

Fuel is constantly seeking established teams that have already found their stride and have those high-performance synergies well-tuned.  These are the elite groups that are able to convert productivity and efficiency into the best quality custom software applications in the shortest amount of time.  The result is world-class software at the best price - true value creation for the progressive enterprise.

These teams already have their internal roles identified, and have had the time necessary to find the right person with the best combination of skills and experience to fit those roles.  Product Manager, Technical Lead, Developers, UX/UI and QA roles are assigned and the team is ready to build quality software.  Leaders have been established and hierarchies have emerged.  Communication channels and strategies are well-ironed out and in perfect working order.  

All of this fine-tuning takes a significant amount of time, and in an industry with some of the highest paid wage earners on the planet, we simply cannot waste time waiting for all of this to fall into place as they work through the stages of forming a healthy team.  If your business is tight on capacity and is looking at outsourcing some development to a remote team – you should not have to pay the school fees for a new team to figure this all out.  One other alternative is to find, vet and then manage an ensemble of individual developers yourself and try pull them together and manage them in a coherent manner.  From years of experience, we can attest that this route is filled with far too much friction and inefficiency to be a viable, scalable and repeatable option for any serious tech company.

Why purpose matters

Another important advantage that established teams has over individuals is the element of purpose.  Purpose defines why the team exists and provides each member a reason to be accountable for their contribution to the group.  Beyond the collective “team-purpose”, the very fact of being an integral part of a cohesive team provides each of the individuals themselves with a purpose.  They have team mates who rely on them and are counting on them to show up each day and deliver their best work.

Purpose is a powerful motivator and is a fundamental component of a fulfilling life.  Human beings crave purpose, and suffer serious psychological difficulties when they don’t have it.  Belonging to a team or “tribe” and being accountable to a group of peers is a highly effective means of providing this sense of purpose.  Award-winning journalist, Sebastian Junger pulls this apart brilliantly in his book by that title.

As explained by Junger in Tribe, we have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding, these so called "tribes." This tribal connection has been largely lost in modern society, but regaining it may be the key to our psychological survival.  Tribe explains why we are stronger when we come together.  The pull of tribal society on modern westerners has been an on-going anecdote and one of the most recent examples of that attraction referenced by Junger is combat veterans who come home to find themselves missing the incredibly intimate bonds of platoon life.  Not to draw comparisons between life in a combat platoon, and that of a software development team…but you get the point.

In closing

Our philosophy at Fuel is that purpose-driven enterprises deserve to be connected with equally passionate and purposeful development teams.  Developing a software product as an enterprise is akin to raising a child and watching it grow and develop into a happy and healthy young adult – you want to work with a team that cares as much as you do.  Not a few individuals, or a team that is thrown together as an afterthought.  A team that learns, laughs and thrives together - every single day.


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