Team Structures

A main responsibility of management is to make sure that teams function well. This implies defining adequate organisational structures and finding adequate people.

The Boss Team

Sometimes, the structure is easy. There’s a boss and there are employees. The boss decides how the team should function, what should be done, who should do it, and is finally the one evaluating the employees according to his/her expectations. The employees can be involved in all these aspects, but the boss has the final authority. This model has sometimes a bad press, because if the boss sucks, it’s hell.

Scrum Team

There are other ways to organise teams. In scrum for instance, the product owner decides what should be done. The development team decides which member does what, and how. How the team works is partly given by the scrum framework itself. But the team can also adapt its way of working through retrospectives. Performance evaluation is not part of scrum and there’s often a line manager, not working closely witht the team, in charge of it. There’s less concentration of power on a “boss”.

Self-Organising Team

Following the decentralisation of power, we lend on so called “self-organising” teams. Given a high-level mission, the team is in charge to figure out how to work (“working on the system, not in the system”), what to do, and who does what. Performance evaluation is still outside the team. In any group a power structure will establish itself. In this case, it’s informal.

In any of the above models, there can be more or less specialisation in the team members. If all employees of a boss team have roughly the same skills, tasks can be distributed arbitrary. If a high specialisation exists, who does what is fixed in advance. How specialisation happens is a side-effect of how the team functions. It can be actively encourage (e.g. T-Shirt Skills) or discouraged. It can be formal (e.g. through job title) or informal.

Staffing is usually outside of the power of the team, except for a boss team. But like other budget issue, it could become part of the team responsabilities.


Boss Team
Scrum TeamSelf-Organising Team
How the team worksBossScrum + Team (Retro)Team
What to doBossProduct OwnerTeam
Who does whatBossTeamTeam
How to do itTeamTeamTeam
Performance EvaluationBossLine ManagerLine Manager
StaffingBossLine ManagerLine Manager

Needless to say, this isn’t an exhaustive listing of all possible structures we find in organisations. In a complex organisation you might have “what do do” actually beeing split between a project manager, a business analyst, and some high-level managment. Or “how to do it” can be split between someone specialised as architect and the rest of the team.

There might also be certain processes to follow, e.g. for compliance or governance reasons.

Each time you have more than one item in a cell in the table, it means that either responsibilities are diluted or there is some specialisation going on. A bit of both might be justified, like a review process for some decision or having experts in some domain. Dilution of responsibilities and specialisation can go hand in hand if the expert acts as reviewer. But having too many items in the cells is probably a sign of organizational dysfunction.

The number of items in the cells reflects the complexity of the organization, a bit like function points reflects the complexity of a feature. I don’t know what’s an acceptable complexity here. As a rough number for a threshold, I would say there should be no more than twelve points across the column.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s