How to manage a patchwork team in IT

It was 1718 when one of the first patchworks ever created was brought to the royal court of King George I. Mesmerised by its’ intricate composition, the king decided to find its’ creator’s workshop, and ask for the secret behind the perfect piece.

Surrounded by his entourage, he came to a humble place where he found the artisan slouching over a pile of fabric snippets. Amazed by the demure surroundings, the king asked the artisan through his translators:

–    What is your recipe for the perfect patchwork, master?

The old man raised his head and after giving it a long and well-deserved though said…

We will get back to King George I, I promise.

But now let me explain what this whole story has to do with managing the teams in IT.

  • As working between Agile and oldschool waterfall approach to the business, the ability to manage patchwork teams is crucial in today’s IT business.

  • Navigating patchwork structures creates a unique opportunity to shape our business towards the net positive perspective. The Dilts model analysis allows to carefully assess every partnership while working towards the realisation of the 17th Sustainable Goal.

  • Several requirements have to be met to create a successful patchwork team, there are tools waiting to be used but the most important one is the elastic mindset.

What is this patchwork exactly?

A mosaic made of colourful scraps translated into IT business means basically that every team is combined of  representatives of all sides of the deal. Altogether they create a self-sufficient team of specialists able to deliver the project.

… and what it is not?

The only instance when we cannot call a team a patchwork one is the perfect situation when there is – on client’s side – one omnipotent Product Owner, responsible for the whole cooperation in every single of its aspects.

Patchwork at work

Let us draw from experience. In Cybercom, we have a multinational team working for a client from the telecom industry. This team consist of 120 people only on our side. All team members have the same goal and work around a common target, that being the client’s product. Making the workflow seamless makes it hard to guess the exact affiliation of an employee.

What keeps the patchworks work?

Building a virtual organisation keeps getting more and more popular. Patchwork teams working together towards one goal may be treated as a separate company with separate growth and business goals.

Here in Poland, the perfect situations mentioned before are really rare. Bestowing all responsibility on one person requires reliance. The omnipotent Product Owner endowed with full trust and wielding authorisation to independently manage the whole project is unique in our reality. This leaves us with one possible option – building a patchwork team with dispersed skills and responsibilities, thus guarantying the future of this kind of team’s setup.

Typical challenges lying ahead of patchwork teams

There is a lot of questions one needs to answer when assessing the team’s compatibility and adapting its way of working to reality.

Each time we ask ourselves if we – as a company – can build a tech of such a structure which will comply with the client’s workflow? Are we agile enough to adapt?

What kind of methodology will we use while working together? Because we know that you can technically manage the transformation, but can we change employees’ minds and make them hop on board with our ideas?

Do we consider managing the project through organisational goals or do we work towards project-specific targets? What awaits at the end of this cooperation? Is it only about one side earn money and the other one has it done the cheapest? And finally, the most important of all those questions: Does this cooperation empower our business?

The n-th power of 5 team dysfunctions

Managing patchwork teams is no easy task. Typical five team dysfunctions get amped up by the clashing of organisational and structural differences. The absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment. Avoidance of accountability and inattention to results do creep up on every team from time to time. In a structure made of people coming from different background, those difficulties tend to escalate faster.

DILTS DISPARITY

The tendency to antagonise between Us and Them makes it even harder to navigate in this environment. Another weak spot is the compatibility within the Dilts Model.

What’s the Dilts? It is a tool that will help you understand all the annoying people around you. It allows to check where our organisations meet and to map our differences. It is important to understand the implications of the last, e.g. when within one organisation everyone uses their first names instead of honorifics, and in another one you have a secretary making coffee for Mr President.

Dilts helps with a precise diagnosis which is crucial – if the differences are too big and companies do not meet even at the level of their values, there is no project management in the world that would make such cooperation possible.

Why all of a sudden am I touching the corporate values now? They are important because if your company truly organises itself around them they are not just slogans, but real convictions cherished by the company’s employees. Yes, those very same who will, finally, build the patchwork teams.

CULTURAL DIFFERENCES

Let’s talk about yet another peril existing in the realm of combined teams: the cultural differences. I don’t think there is a need to explain the definitions here, but should you feel the need to read more on that topic, I recommend you two authorities – Geert Hofstede and Erin Meyer. They both have developed their models of investigating cultural differences within the business environment.

So, let’s have a look at yet another example from our daily business. Let’s use Hofstede’s model to map the cultural differences between our organisation and this big Swedish client I mentioned before. According to the metrics available on his website (help yourself to the link below, it’s truly interesting!) there are few big gaps between the Polish and Swedish results.

First of all, Poles have the prevalent need to know what is going to happen next, whereas Swedes tend to be more relaxed and ‘go with the flow’. Another difference is the way the business is run. Swedish employees very often point out the fun at work as an important indicator and also, the structures within their companies tend to be a lot less hierarchic than in the Polish ones.

Another important indicator is the ‘masculinity’ index. Polish business tends to be far more masculine, competitive and focused on being the best. Swedish approach is more “feminine”, satisfaction- and cooperation-oriented.

Knowing those differences is a powerful tool in creating a successful patchwork team. It helps to pick the best people and to create the best possible environment for them to work in.

Check the Hofstede Insights’ Analysis

Educational aids in managing a patchwork team in IT

A leader cast into the position of managing the patchwork team is not left alone. A variety of educational aids can be created. What are the most important ones? Let’s quickly review our options:

INTEGRATION & TEAM BUILDING

A deep understanding that the team’s integration is not an event but a process. It works best in the space where representatives of both business structures have room to really work together.

TEAM CONTRACT

This is the kind of agreement that should be created by the patchwork team itself. A good team contract should include regulations about allowed and banned behaviour (e.g. if it is ok if during the sprint planning participants do not take any notes or if it is ok for them to be on their smartphones during the meetings), but also mark and explain the organisational differences and governance (e.g. who is responsible for employees’ holidays or who and to what extent can provide feedback).

QUICK FACTUAL ESCALATION

The pursuit of a fast escalation allows to clearly map the patchwork, and this means identifying all the organisational structures actually as the stakeholders within the project. It is interesting how often they transpire to be much bigger than initially considered.

UNION OF THE GOALS

Making sure everyone in the team is excited about the same goals facilitates all of the above-mentioned processes. People joined by simply their motivation get together fast and they like to work together. This makes the environment safe, and thus – fosters the escalation culture.

VIRTUAL ORGANISATION

Allows to treat the patchwork team as a coherent structure and allows to assign e.g. shared yearly plans and targets. This setup helps all the included parties to feel the team spirit and identify as a group.

Conclusion

Working in and with a patchwork team requires a lot of agility, trust, and a mind open to negotiation when new differences emerge. Every structure has its’ manager or, in best case scenario, a leader, who should be included in the process of creating a patchwork team. This ensures the deep understanding of daily challenges of such an environment, but also the possibilities lying ahead of a patchwork structure.

Now, to sum up, back to our dear King George I, patiently waiting in the small artisan shop for his answer. What did he hear when he asked for a secret recipe for the perfect patchwork?

–    There is none, your Majesty. Every patchwork is different.

About the Author: Jan Matulewicz

He has been associated with the IT industry in various roles since 2004. Technical documentation specialist, tester, java developer, team leader, project manager, line manager, product owner and finally – the Head of Software House. He is a graduate of Center of International Education at the Lodz University of Technology and Executive MBA at the University of Lodz.

He’s an enthusiast of technology in the service of humanity, information humanism and engineering of miracles. An occasional lecturer and personal development coach. He supports the theory of the world of good, work as a natural human need and the enrichment of societies.

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2019-05-16T08:59:16+00:00April 3rd, 2019|articles, digitalisation, management 3.0|0 Comments

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