This week I’m working in Minneapolis with Esther Derby. We’re pair writing a book on retrospectives. Working on the book has me thinking about teams—the two-person team of Esther and me and the teams that benefit from retrospectives—and my October 11 list of criteria for being a team.

Interdependent work (the second criterion for “team” on my October 11 list) underscores team members’ need to work together to get their jobs done. When work is interdependent, team members rely on the contribution (skills, knowledge, talents, interaction) of others. They can’t do their part alone. Interdependent work requires rich communication, frequent interaction and reciprocal handoffs. An interdependent team exists when the shared goal requires a number of different skills and talents to accomplish.

Once I was asked to lead a “teambuilding” session for a group of TV cable installers. I resisted. When their manager, and my potential customer, asked me why, I questioned the need for team building with a group that had no interdependence in their work. Each installer had his own truck, made calls to customers alone, and returned at the end of the day to fill out paperwork alone. Each had all the skills and information needed to complete the job without interacting with any of the others. Their manager held them individually accountable for completing their weekly service calls. They occasionally communicated to coordinate service, but that was a relatively rare occurrence. They didn’t even take coffee breaks together. I could build no team of installers.

The “team,” if one existed, was the team of installer, dispatcher/scheduler, purchasing agents and truck stockers. Each had different skills. Each needed the other to provide good service to the customer and accomplish their shared goal.

"Teambuilding” among this group of autonomous installers would cause more annoyance than cohesion. I suggested to the manager that, rather than teambuilding, this group of colleagues might benefit more from regular opportunities to swap stories of lessons learned in the field.

Unlike cable TV installation, developing software is a team activity, even more so when the group has chosen to work with an Agile approach. Working software cannot go out the door unless individuals with different skills and experiences come together and interact as a team. Agile software development requires interdependent work.