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Agile Basics for Football – Being a Self-organising team is no guarantee for high performance

Exactly a month ago during a football match against Wolves, the Manchester United star Paul Pogba missed a penalty…again. What made this miss stand out was that he spent a considerable amount of time arguing with fellow teammate and striker Marcus Rashford (whom many agree should have been the kicker for that penalty) for the right to take the penalty kick.

Football especially the way it’s organised and played in the English Premier League has long been held by most Agilist as the ultimate Agile Scrum process. With the Players as the collaborative Development Team, Team Coach as the Scrum Master, Club Manager as Product Owner, Club Chairman as Business Stakeholder, The League Table is the Product Backlog, each match a Sprint with a Sprint Goal, the goals themselves are Increments, Big Data Statistics are Scrum Empirical Metrics etc.

In that spirit, FA Premier League teams should, by definition, be “Self-Organising” and therefore be very capable of collaborating by constant communication through short, face to face, feedback loops to enable them to be fully self-organising. If that is the supposed case, why then did that embarrassing incident occur (and had been occurring so many times before and more in other leagues in European football and beyond)?

This brings me to the topic of this blog, that being self-organising is not enough for high performance. Many agile teams from the get-go, dash straight to start developing increments in sprints, then as the team goes through its typical Forming, Storming, Norming or Performing stages…. many remain strangely stuck on the Storming phase or more commonly, we see a recurrence

Paul Pogba - Manchester United - Fox Sports

of these storming phases as if the team is in a never-ending loop of building and rebuilding itself. This of course, eventually wears off as the team becomes mature, but, the resistance to its flow needn’t be there via these tiny skirmishes of disagreements, ego etc.

When you take a deeper look in these teams to assess the root cause, you will often find that they NEVER initiated a TEAM'S WORKING AGREEMENT or ALLIANCE. This one single item for some reason is often ignored as an important major artefact and if the team had taken the time to create one at the very beginning, it would had set the tone of expectations and helped reduce the natural resistance (being humans) against the teams flow and ultimately performance.

Putting in place a simple working agreement for Manchester United FC especially around issues like, who should take the penalties awarded, would have never allowed that embarrassing incident with Pogba & Rashford to occur.

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