Smells like team spirit

During my vacation I had a great talk with two of my wife’s relatives. They are both into team sports; one is a youth soccer coach and the other is a professional ice hockey player. My main question to them was: How do you get good team spirit?


(Picture taken from

UEFA U21 2015

Earlier this summer Sweden won the European championships in soccer for players under 21 years (UEFA U21). How could that happen? Sweden is a small country with only nine million inhabitants. Large parts of Sweden are covered with snow during parts of the year, not making ideal conditions for practicing and playing soccer. During the tournament Sweden competed against more respected ”soccer countries” like England, Italy and Portugal. They had teams packed will already well established players with ”star status” in their respective clubs.

Not having the best players on the individual level, there most be something else that made this possible. My take is that it was the team spirit. A strong force that is created when a team comes together as one. Like the following quote:

”The whole of the ant colony is greater than the sum of the ants.” – Andrew Stellman & Jennifer Greene, taken from the book ”Learning Agile”

Factors for team spirit and thereby success

Back to my question about team spirit, here are the answers I received:

  • Trust – A team can’t function if the individuals don’t trust each other. Without trust you don’t have a team, what you have then is individuals grouped together. Trust is the fundamental base for a team.
  • ”Högt i tak” – A Swedish phrase that roughly translates to ”height up to the ceiling”. This means that there is a climate in the group that allows different opinions to be expressed without fear of them being turned against you. This may sound a bit fuzzy, so let’s break it down a bit:
    Questioning – If only one or a few voices are to be heard in a team there is no questioning. Without questioning not all brains are used to make the best decisions possible. Utilizing all brains in the groups is better then just using one! The climate in the team must be that everyone has the possibility to discuss and influence important decisions before they are taken.
    Dare to fail – Without trying out new things and thereby risking failure, no learning takes place. Without learning there is no moving forward. Barely holding up status quo is not an option anymore, your competitors will destroy you!
    Dreaming – Months before the UEFA U21 tournament started no one thought it was possible for Sweden to win! All except one person, John Guidetti, one of the key players in the Swedish team. He thought it was possible, he even said it in media. By formulating the dream, the others in the team bought into it, and made it happen! John Sonmez has a great saying for this: ”Act as if, them become!”.
  • Humble – For the team to be truly successful each individual needs to put the goals of the team first, before any individual and more ”egoistic” goals. The team players needs to be humble to the greater course of the team. This comes very natural for Swedish people, it’s part of of DNA to be part of a group/team and to put the goals of the team first. You can even say that is part of of our social democratic legacy (however now the society is being more and more focused on the individual, like in many other countries). There is another Swedish phrase for this, ”laget före jaget” (translates to ”the team before my own needs”).
  • Acceptance of roles – In a team, different roles and competences are needed. When you are assigned to a role, you need to accept that and not complain that you want to do something else. In a soccer tournament this is especially true for the players that are substitutes and get very little time to play in the matches. They need to hold their head high, not whining, and still contribute to a good team spirit.
  • Time limit – For a team to come together the ”extra effort” needed has to be time limited, like during a tournament. A ”bubble” can only exist a certain time before it pops.
  • Underdog – Swedes like to be the underdog, with no initial pressure, building up confidence for each match and then finally winning it all. It seems to be very suitable for our mentality. Other countries may need the pressure of being favorites from the beginning to be able to ”get that little extra” to win.

How this translates into the world of software development

Some great answers above, but I guess you wonder how they can be translated to our world of software development? Here is my take:

  • Trust – This is a basic foundation for any team!
  • ”Högt i tak” (Everyone is free to express their opinions without repercussions)
    Questioning – As stated, the right level of questioning needs to be present to reach the best decisions in a team. If not, we a back in an old ”command & control”-manner where only one or a few persons make all the decisions.
    Dare to fail – Without the courage to fail sometimes we have no experiments that in turn leads to continuous improvements (kaizen).
    Dreaming – Any team needs a visionary person. Might it be a person in the team or someone ”external” that can influence and ”sell” the bigger picture. However, the ”dream” must be seen as reachable, otherwise the ”dreamer” will just be neglected.
  • Humble – The goals of the team must be treated over the personal interests of the individuals.
  • Acceptance of roles – If you are a developer that is your primary focus. But if testing skills are needed at a certain time, the same person shall not turn those tasks down. Even if you are a striker in soccer, you have to participate in both offense and defense.
  • Time limit – In an organization that works day out and day in, it’s harder to find natural time limits. However, a project is naturally time limited and the time boxing aspect also exist in Scrum with the sprints. These can be used as time limits to create focus.
  • Underdog – What we can take away from this is to set the right expectations for the team. The right motivation will make the team perform better. If the expectations are unrealistic, they will be neglected as stated earlier.


I hope you have got some more ideas on how to create team spirit. It all starts with trust, then humble team players will come together and reach the challenging goals set for the team!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist


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