ATEM: An Agile Model for Evaluating Teamwork Effectiveness

Posted June 16, 2022 | Leadership |
woman sitting at work table; team members standing/sitting on nearby desks

Teamwork is critical in many industrial sectors. When creating complex software solutions, most companies and public institutions organize work within cross-functional teams and follow the principles of Agile development. This approach to knowledge-intensive work seeks to empower team members, ensures that the most competent people make decisions, and manages uncertainty by allowing members to learn and adapt as work progresses.

Agile methods offer much guidance on teamwork. The “Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto” highlight self-organized teams and face-to-face conversations which, according to the principles, is “the most efficient and effective method of conveying information.” More­over, “a great development team,” according to a white paper on scrum teams, “trusts each other” and “pursues technical excellence.”

Advice is abundant. For example, Google’s re:Work model offers advice to development teams in the form of five key factors for successful teams, including “psychological safety,” “structure and clarity,” and work that the team members consider meaningful. There is also general advice from years of studies of teamwork and from empirical studies on Agile development teams. However, there has yet to be a model that draws together the knowledge from all these sources and specifically focuses on the effectiveness of Agile teamwork.

To fill this gap, we have developed an Agile Teamwork Effectiveness Model (ATEM). Our model is based on a review of empirical studies on Agile development teams, general studies of effective teams and teamwork, and practitioner advice. We also incorporated findings from our own two case studies and 22 focus groups. Though primarily intended for colocated Agile soft­ware development teams, the increasing adoption of Agile methods outside IT departments may make the model valuable for other Agile workplaces.

Why Do We Need a Team Effectiveness Model?

Team effectiveness refers to how team members inter­act to accomplish their project’s goals, while delivering quality work within budget and on schedule. Ineffective teamwork is detrimental — it can reduce job satisfac­tion, interfere with team learning, generate knowl­edge and skill silos, and generally impede progress.

Teamwork effectiveness models are based on accum­ulated empirical observations and reasoned arguments, and identify and describe key factors necessary for effective teamwork. Our model, tailored for Agile practitioners, offers insights into effective Agile teamwork and explains how certain Agile practices support it.

The ATEM builds on the Big Five model of team­work effectiveness. It consists of three coordinating mechanisms that facilitate and support five teamwork components critical for team effectiveness (see Figure 1). The ATEM includes observable behaviors that prac­titioners can use to evaluate teamwork effectiveness (see Table 1) and, if necessary, make informed decisions to improve it.

Figure 1. The Agile Teamwork Effectiveness Model (ATEM)
Figure 1. The Agile Teamwork Effectiveness Model (ATEM)
Table 1. Coordinating mechanisms with behavioral markers in the ATEM
Table 1. Coordinating mechanisms with behavioral markers in the ATEM

[For more from the authors on this topic, see: “Right Thoughts & Right Action: How to Make Agile Teamwork Effective.”]

About The Author
Torgeir Dingsøyr
Torgeir Dingsøyr is a Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Norway, and an adjunct Chief Research Scientist at SimulaMet research laboratory. Dr. Dingsøyr’s research focuses on teamwork and learning in software development and Agile methods for large software projects and programs. He has been published in the areas of software engineering, information systems, and project… Read More
Diane Strode
Diane Strode is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Information Technology, Whitireia Polytechnic, New Zealand, and a research fellow at Open University, UK. She also has experience as a software developer for Mobil Oil Australia. Dr. Strode’s research centers on Agile software development and coordination. She has been published in the areas of information systems and software engineering. Dr. Strode earned a PhD from Victoria University of… Read More
Yngve Lindsjørn
Yngve Lindsjørn is an Associate Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of Oslo, Norway. He spent 10 years as a researcher at the Norwegian Computing Center and has 13 years’ industry experience as a project manager and CEO of a software company. Previously, Mr. Lindsjørn was project manager for a research project investigating teamwork in software development. His research includes software development methods and teamwork… Read More