A Short Story Of An Antifragile Team

A Short Story Of An Antifragile Team

Wikipedia says that antifragility is a property of systems that increase in capability, resilience, or robustness as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures. Jennifer Havens, in her article titled Building an Antifragile Team, uses the term in a reference for teams working on products.

Evolution Of A Team

Before I share a very general story about the team I am working in, I would like to explain how I sense the evolution of a team. First, we work in some kind of chaos. No processes, no tools, no interactions. Then we try to embrace uncertainty with some kind of process, the waterfall-ish one or, if we’re lucky, the scrum-ish one. We have some interactions, several processes, and lots of tools. Then we „do agile”. We inspect and adapt, we value interactions, we sometimes deliver value for customers. Going further we become a truly agile and a resilient team – the one that stays in a good shape after unexpected events, changes in priorities, etc. We deliver more and more value in shorter and shorter time spans. At the end of a journey, the end I am able to imagine today, I see an antifragile team. The team that becomes stronger after each stress, shock, volatility, noise, mistake, fault, attack, or failure. This team not only delivers often more mythical value to the customer. It invents new ways of working. It uses pivots regularly and changes priorities as needed. It experiments. It becomes stronger after each team composition change. It has built-in mechanisms of exchanging knowledge and competencies like hiring people with different point of view, different backgrounds or competencies, etc.

Are We Antifragile Yet?

It would be arrogant to say so. In fact, I don’t know. I don’t know if such teams exist at all. However, I observe some good indicators we may become one in the future. I share „my individual” point of view. It can naturally be different from the points of view of other team members.

We are humans therefore events, emotions, and behaviours treated commonly as „negative” ones, are an integral part of our daily work, either work of individuals, teams, managers or the whole companies. Although I consider both „bad internals” and „good internals” as equally important, this time I want to share only the positive ones. Why? Firstly because I believe focusing on what’s postive brings bettre results. Secondly, because it wouldn’t be professional to reveal bad things about the team, managers or company without their explicit permission to do so. And finally, I intentionally write about The People as, at the end, they are the most important ones. The two remaining pillars of product development, The Product and The Process for later writing in my backlog I remain.

We integrate

One may immediately think about code integration stuff. As we have microservice oriented architecture based on AWS and other stack, yes, we are able to integrate code several times a day. I rather speak about something wider, about people integration. We integrate a lot during a day by speaking about every possible subject or sharing on our skype plenty of professional stuff intermingled with LOL content. We integrate several times a week with our client on hangouts. We integrate business items and ideas with our end-users doing weekly deployments. We go together to buy sandwiches. We have peer pressure and beer pressure :p. We integrate regularly outside the office. I believe none of the so-called professional subjects haves been touched on our yesterday’s integration.

We empathise

As I wrote above, I believe we speak about everything. We share our feelings and speak openly about some hard and uneasy experiences each of us faces from time to time. We empathise with each other. We understand that people have good and bad time at work, at home, at a gym, etc.

We care

Once someone is late, we call and ask if everything is ok. If someone is sick or feels like a shit, we do not eagerly ask what’s wrong? We let people go home if they need so. We care how other team members feel, sometimes in our specific and weird ways. The ways are rather non-publishable :p.

We share

I’ve heard once a feedback from the former team member that he treats speaking about personal stuff as an unprofessional behaviour. How the hell people who spend together most of their time, can become a professionally communicating team, if they don’t speak about various areas of life including personal observations, beliefs, stories?

We learn

We care also in terms of our development. Healthy peer pressure is constantly present. Our QA expert called „The Eye” reports bugs „in your face” and doesn’t omit even the smallest issues. Some developers push mates to code review or merge earlier. All try to constantly learn new things and exchange frontend and backend tasks regularly. We exchange who presents the product during the product review. Our scrum master or product owner exchanges duties, sometimes for many weeks. Our PO asks if we can deliver more and developers push him back for better acceptance criteria. Our scrum master was once a tester for 3 weeks and we survived :p

We remain small

We don’t let our team members count to grow beyond measure. We remain a small team and push ourselves to do more valuable work for a client not by scaling our team and our current services but by learning new things and scaling level of services we offer. Most of the team members are currently being considered to be promoted.

We have fun

LOL content is ubiquitous in all our communication channels. We laugh in the team and with our client on our product reviews or daily catch-ups. Sometimes we permit ourselves to be terrible trolls and use language that is far from being politically correct. We prepare sometimes easter eggs for the client. We collect retro turbo gum stickers which cover all our product’s user personas on our wall. We occasionally send some turbo gums to our client as well. We play some games regularly like HaxBall. We tried once to play the Remove the Carcass game.

Are we resilient yet?

I am sure, we are. For the last 8 months, the team has faced so many circumstances commonly considered as the bad, the hard, the uneasy, or event the disturbing ones, that I assume if we haven’t been resilient, we would never be able to survive.

So, perhaps we are antifragile?

I don’t know. This journey never ends. As long as:

  • the business priorities and market demand changes,
  • the team consists of people not thinking the same way,
  • the team is relatively small,
  • the team consists of people with a various skill set and various years of experience,
  • the team composition changes from time to time,
  • the team offers more advanced services for a client and end-users,
  • the people exchange knowledge,
  • and finally, as long as the people laugh and share their stories, one day they will become one for sure 🙂

I strongly believe I am currently working in the most advanced, open and matured agile team in my career. It’s pity I will soon be no longer a part of this fantastic bunch of people. But live’s going on. I will take my learnings and stories to another team or organisation.


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