A Cross-Functional Agile Team Meets Sprint Commitments

Three Tips for Building a Strong Cross-Functional Agile Team

You’ve heard that Agile teams should be cross-functional to be successful. But what does that really mean and how do you build and sustain a strong cross-functional Agile team? According to The Scrum Guide, “Cross-functional teams have all competencies needed to accomplish the work without depending on others not part of the team.”  

This does not mean that every member of the team can do every job on the team, although cross-training has many benefits. It does mean that a cross-functional Agile team should have members that possess all skills needed to close the Stories in the Sprint Backlog. 

So how do you get to this magical team? The following recommendations give you the foundation you need to create a great team:

  1. Include a mix of specialists on the team
  2. Expect issues in the beginning
  3. Establish a culture of working outside your job title 

1. Include a Mix of Specialists on the Team

Understanding the skills you need on the team before you begin allows you to recruit the best mix of team members. Except for the specific roles of Scrum Master and Product Owner, everyone else is the Development Team. Ensure the Development Team has the skills needed to build the product. For example, software development teams may need both software developers and quality assurance testers and possibly business analysts. 

If you can’t get the skills your team needs full time, check out our post about Extended Team Contracts

2. Expect Issues in the Beginning

Most teams experience a dip in performance when switching to Agile because there’s a learning curve.  Any time you make a change, you can expect a period of adjustment to the new process. This is normal. Provide encouragement and guidance to help make the transition easier.

Allow for mistakes. Mariam Taqui Ali, a Senior Associate at KNOLSKAPE Insights Centre, explains why this is important in her article How to Foster a Learning Culture:  

These organizations foster a strong learning culture where employees are not judged or belittled for the slips and falls they make. Instead, employees are encouraged to fail as these organizations understand that no success is possible without a setback.

Attempt to resolve the highest priority issues at Retrospective. Listening to the team’s ideas and acting on them is a great way to maintain a highly functional team.

3. Establish a Culture of Working Outside Your Job Title

To meet their Sprint commitments by closing Stories, team members may have to work outside their job title. A great example can be found at the supermarket checkout line, which is typically manned by a cashier and a bagger. The cashier often helps the bagger after the customer pays to keep the line moving and the customer happy with a quick exit.

You should always be ready to step in and help where bottlenecks occur. This requires monitoring progress at Daily Standups. Are there blockers that can be resolved within the team? The entire team is responsible for determining how to move past the blocker and follow-up to make sure the Story closes. If a Story needs testing and the quality team doesn’t have bandwidth, someone else on the team should step in and perform test cases. 

Do you have additional ideas or examples of creating a strong, cross-functional team? 

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Gerri Grove

Gerri Slama Grove


Gerri Slama Grove








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