Unbounded Team

Unbounded Team
: Use team members for work that is outside of their remit or declared purpose

Proverbs: What we imagine is order is merely the prevailing form of chaos

Also Known As: Firefighting

Motivation: The allocation of team members to certain workstreams implies that they will not be available for others. This is a constraint on organizational behavior, since it means that managers cannot assign people to multiple duties in a reactive or ad-hoc manner. Organizations can be tempted to compromise on such discipline for the sake of expediency.

Structure: A team member is assigned to a workstream but there is no limit to the number of assignments that can be made. Members can thus be expected to work on multiple concerns and this can include both project and business-as-usual work. 

Applicability: Most agile methods, including Scrum, do not constrain team members to single workstreams. To this extent the teams are susceptible to becoming unbounded. It should be noted however that agile teams are self-organizing. Self-organization restricts the ability of managers to assign members to different workstreams in an arbitrary manner.

Consequences: Unbounded teams make commitment-based planning difficult or impossible. Team membership is unclear, and the time that members can spend on a particular workstream may be unreliable. Sprint goals can be compromised and the quality of forecasting will be poor. The morale of the team will suffer as a result of poor cohesion, a failure to deliver, or an inadequate sense of purpose. Inefficiencies due to task-switching are often a symptom of the unbounded team problem. The reassignment of team members by external authorities implies that the team is not self-organizing and therefore not agile. Reassignment of team members to multiple workstreams can also imply that portfolio and program level management is unfit for purpose. 

: The Unbounded Team antipattern often occurs when organizations succumb to firefighting. Firefighting happens when inappropriate plans are made or the organizational response to change is poorly managed. The problem is also associated with reactive management styles and with incompetent managers who commit team members without appropriate consultation.