ATOM — Agile Team Organization Model

Written by Natty Gur & John Tyce

Though it may sound controversial at first thought, the best structure an agile team of humans can follow is that of the atom. Fully embracing this concept, we have called this organizational model, Agile Team Organizational Model (ATOM). In this post, we will explore the main concepts and application of the ATOM model.

Agility is not just a noun; but rather a malleable framework which allows for a mode of being that promotes the ability of a structure of entities (teams of people in this case) to rapidly evolve and change structure as conditions demand. Nature at its elemental level is shaped by agile entities that make up everything around us. What are these structures, and how can teams mimic them and become truly agile?

There is a simple and profound model for agile teams. We didn’t invent it, we just mimicked and adapted it. It is one of the most fundamental structures in nature. Like any other good model, there is a simplified version and a more detailed version, with the later providing more information and insight. In this post, we’ll focus on the high-level model. We will explore the more detailed model in part two of this series.

The common model takes the most familiar components of an atom and applies them to a proposed structure for agile teams. The main components in the simple ATOM model are like those found in natures atom. The atom contains protons and neutrons, which create a structure called the nucleus and orbiting this nucleus are electrons. The protons and neutrons are strongly bound together in the nucleus and electrons are more loosely bound to the protons from outside of the nucleus.

Before we delve into the parts of the atom, it is important to make apparent the fact that all the parts which comprise the atom form a unit with predictable characteristics. Each part provides unique qualities that complement the whole. When balance between the parts is lost the unit becomes unstable.

The First Principle:

Like the atom, teams are made up of fundamental components. In the case of teams these components are people rather than particles. The characteristics of a team and the success of a team result from all the people who make up the team. Each person has a different contribution (as we will discuss later), and if we remove any person from a team, we change the properties of that team.

The Second Principle:

Just like atoms agile teams have a nucleus of people (the core group) who are strongly bound and complement each other to create stability. Around them are other people who are like electrons. Like the core group these people are an essential part of the team, but they are bond to the core is weaker than the bonds within the core. In other words, teams are composed of people who are tightly bound and people who are freer to move around (less tightly bound). Though less tightly bound (the electron like people) are just as essential to the group as the tightly bound core group. Each group of people have differing yet equally essential roles to play within the team structure.

Let’s explore the role of each fundamental particle making up the atom (protons, neutrons and electrons) and what operating rules we can create by learning from them. After exploring the principles, we’ll delve deeper into the fascinating correlation between people on a team and the protons, neutrons and electrons that make up the structure of an atom.

Let’s start with the proton. Protons and neutrons make up the tightly bound nucleus of the atom. Protons which are positively charged, interact with the negatively charged electrons orbiting around the nucleus. If there are fewer protons than electrons, then the atom is less stable.

The other primary particle making up the nucleus is the neutron. Neutrons have no charge and are neutral. Neutrons have two main roles in the nucleus. They provide stability by binding strongly with the protons and they create separation between protons, thus preventing them from repelling each other. The combination of these interactions keeps the nucleus bound together.

We already know that electrons are negatively charged and that positively charged protons attract them. The most important role of the electron as related to the ATOM model, is its ability to bond two or more atoms into molecules. In a nutshell, electrons can move between two atoms or be shared between them to form bonds.

Before we define principles 3–7, let us explore the Agile Team Organization Model in correlation to the laws of chemistry and physics by defining the people equivalent of protons, neutrons and electrons. Though people are obviously not particles of an atom, there are a few principles which still apply, and that is attraction and stability. Whoever we choose to be protons should be able to attract those we choose to be electrons. Whoever we choose as neutrons should be able to keep the protons together, and the electrons should possess the power to form bonds with other teams.

There are two perspectives from which we can compare people. One is general and the other is based on personalities. We have found the later to be much more accurate. The general model defines people as a certain particle based on their attitude towards the group. The most enthusiastic people are the protons. The people with more negative attitudes are the electrons, and the rest as neutrons. The protons and the neutrons form the core of the teams and the electrons orbit around them. This model is simple to understand, but very subjective and poorly explains the principles defined above.

The personality perspective is based on three personality types defined by a leadership model known as the leadership circle (https://leadershipcircle.com/en/reactive-leadership/). This model defines three types of personalities having the following characteristics:

· Heart type (complying): The strength of people with this personally type is relationships with people. They are the social people and create harmony. They lead from Yin (the dark side of the yin-yang).

· Will type (controlling): People with this personality have a strong will power. They are the doers and make things happened. They lead from Yang (the light side of the yin-yang).

· Head type (protecting): They will remain composed and rational. They are thinkers, applying analytical and critical thinking to complex problems. They lead neither from Yin nor Yang. They take the neutral position.

Each of us has a combination of the personalities described by The Leadership Circle Model, but there is always one of the three that is more dominant. These core personality strengths help to define which type of personality better fits the role correlating to a particular atomic particle. The proton is the Will Type (Yang), the electron is the Heart Type (Yin), and the neutron is the Head Type (neither Yin nor Yang). It took years of leadership experience to find out and verify that these personalities follow all the principles outlined above. There are methods for determining a person’s leading personality type. The leadership circle offers an assessment tool that can be used to identify one’s dominant personality type (https://leadershipcircle.com/en/products/leadership-circle-profile/).

Heart Types (Yin) are the social agents who will create bonds with other teams, forming larger agile structures in organizations. Will Types (Yang) contribute energy through their unrelenting drive and uncompromising desire for success even at the cost of others. Like Yin and Yang, the heart type and the will type are complimentary opposing forces of equal importance. Stability and wholeness cannot be achieved unless both personality types are present in the team. To maintain the stability of the team balance between these two personality types must be maintained.

Finally, Head Types (neither Yin nor Yang) bring neutral stability by remaining rational and analytical as conflict emerges between the opposing forces of the Heart and Will Types. Furthermore, they provide separation between the Will Types with logic and brilliance. When combined in the appropriate numbers for the operating environment, the different personality types work together to create a stable agile team structure.

The model with the personalities will look like this:

Now that we have explored the correlation between the people on an agile team and the primary particles of the atom, we can define the remaining principles:

The Third Principle:

In agile teams there should be an equal number of electrons and protons to create a balance. Instability in the team can result from an uneven number of protons and electrons.

4th: Too many protons in the group without neutrons will cause instability. Neutrons are essential to bind protons that repel each other by default.

5th: Protons and neutrons provide stability to a group.

6th: electrons are essential for creating a group of groups or bigger structures. Bigger groups can do and achieve more than smaller groups or individuals.

7th: Protons keep the electrons around the core group, but electrons can move to other groups or be shared with other groups.

The interesting thing about this model is that after practicing it for a while you can create a table of team types, organized in a fashion similar to the periodic table of elements roughly based on the number of protons or Will Type personalities in the group. If teams are self-organized, they will alter their group structure to fit the changing environment around them. If groups are engineered, you must be very careful to ensure that your engineered structure is adaptable to change like the self-organized team.

You’ll find after some time that groups not following the above principles are very unstable and struggle.

We will present our current “period table” of teams and discuss the model in more detail in the next posts.

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