When Jeff Sutherland read a 1986 Harvard Business Review article on how top Japanese companies developed products using cross-functional teams, the insights struck close to home. That’s because he was applying the same principles as CEO of various software firms.
The HBR article described how Japanese teams resemble rugby teams that drive down the field in a scrum formation. Just as groups of employees at companies such as Honda, Canon and Fuji like to self-organize without interference from senior, rugby players make creative decisions on their own amid changing circumstances.
In the 1990s, Sutherland helped launch the “scrum” method of software development. He now advises businesses on applying this collaborative process.
Using the scrum approach, teams work together in real time to solve problems and advance toward collective goals. Participants with different disciplines support each other’s success through every phase of product development.
Rugby teams try to harness the talent of each player at just the right time to clear a path downfield. Similarly, top business teams operate with speed, flexibility and autonomy. Senior managers do not impose constraints or insist on detailed plans; instead, they back off and let groups gel on their own.
In rugby, players pass the ball back and forth as they proceed downfield. They try to put the ball in the hands of the right person at the right time. In the same manner, Sutherland trains teams to organize themselves so that they collaborate effectively and help put each other in the best chance to succeed.
— Adapted from Little Bets, Peter Sims, Simon & Schuster.