Article Series: Part 5: Team Formation & Self-Selection Workshop

A pattern for Team Design strategy & self-Formation Workshop events

In this series of articles, Agile Rising’s Scaled Agile experts have introduced and provided recommendations on peer-reviewed and field-tested ideas and patterns for organizing around value while using SAFe as guidance. The patterns include critical features of value stream management, SAFe principles, Design Thinking, Agile, organizational change management & design, industrial and organizational psychology, team design strategy, team topologies, team formation & self-selection, and applied Lean and Systems Thinking.

Series Article Topics

Team Formation Workshop

March 22, 2024 - Marshall Guillory, Scaled Agile SPCT, Enterprise Agility Coach 

In the previous article we discussed the concepts and activities of the Team Design Strategy Workshop (TDSW) that form the basis of an organizational design hypothesis. This article is all about the mechanics of the workshop and how to successfully prepare for and facilitate the team formation event.


Organizing Agile Release Trains (ARTs) around development value streams ensures they can define, build, test, and release Solutions. Additionally, to optimize value delivery, the teams on the ART need to be organized effectively. Get this wrong, and the benefits of a cross-functional ART are lost as the teams struggle to manage dependencies and deliver value effectively. 

The Team Formation Workshop is a collaborative event that helps organize the ART into cross-functional Agile teams. Organizations apply it after completing the SAFe Value Stream and ART Identification Workshop when the ART designs are understood.  

The workshop provides an environment for stakeholders and team members to explore different team design options and align around the best way forward. The workshop’s output is an agreement on organizing the Agile Teams on the ART and the steps needed to achieve this. Creating the space for a collaborative organizational design hypothesis for the team of teams. 

Defining the value stream network scope and objectives

The Team Formation Workshop aims to provide a collaborative space for stakeholders and teams to explore alternative Agile team design options, form and finalize an organizational design hypothesis for the ART, and form into teams. It is recommended to be used after the Value Stream an ART Identification Workshop (VSAIW), and preferably have also run through Value Stream Mapping Workshops, that often precede the Team Design Strategy and Team Formation workshops for each team of teams, as shown in Figure 1. We refer to the value stream network concept as the collection of identified value streams, teams, teams of teams necessary to delivery value.

In this manner, each prior step in the sequence produces the outputs (shown in grey) that act as inputs for the next step. Together, these activities take the organization from identifying their development value streams and ARTs, designing the teams on those ARTS, and finally putting in place the foundations for creating high-performing Agile Teams.

A self-selection approach to team organization might be new to enterprises that have previously assigned team members to specific teams. The self-selection workshop provides a different approach that harnesses the individual and combined knowledge of those affected by these changes. It gives the team members key inputs related to the work to be done and then empowers them to decide how to organize to achieve the desired outcomes. This exploits the knowledge of all those involved, creates buy-in from the team members, and gives the subsequent teams a jumpstart in the team-building and trusted relationship process.  

Our workshop experiences apply to a single Agile Release Train (ART) or large solution trains. This approach is also useful for organizing individual ARTs on a Solution Train. The added complexity requires additional preparation and coordination of stakeholders.

This article will walk through the activities to effectively prepare for a Team Formation Workshop and run it successfully. 

back to top

Preparing for the Workshop 

Achieving good outcomes from the Team Self-Selection workshop requires proper preparation. The Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE) typically organizes the workshops led by someone within the LACE or the ART’s Release Train Engineer (RTE).  

The preparation activities typically fall into three categories: 

  1. Collect and create workshop inputs: With the correct information, leaders set the appropriate context for the team self-selection workshop and increase confidence to achieve successful outcomes. 
  1. Gather the right attendees: This includes the individuals who will become team members on the newly formed teams and key stakeholders who will actively create the right environment for the workshop to be successful. 
  1. Set appropriate expectations and create alignment: The new approach to organizing around value will challenge existing processes, practices, and technologies. Since the workshop cannot address all the organization’s challenges, it should foster a “meeting in the middle” attitude among the stakeholders and participants. There is no perfect result. Instead, the goal is to find the optimum balance.  

Each of these preparation steps is further detailed below.

back to top

Collect and create workshop inputs 

Workshop attendees need to understand the business context, the solution they are building, who it is for, and the business outcomes they expect to achieve. Many inputs are described. However, not all of them are required as they will vary based on the organizational context. For example, fewer inputs will be needed if the workshop reorganizes existing teams working on mature products.  

Figure 3: Potential inputs into the Team Formation & Self-Selection Workshop

Figure 3: Potential inputs to the Team Self-Selection Workshop

Business context – To organize properly, workshop attendees must understand the broader business context, the problems the teams on the ART will be solving, and the future state they hope to achieve. Further, the team design must be optimized to achieve desired business outcomes and flow. These outcomes could be to pursue an opportunity, address business risk, or better optimize their current processes to reduce time to market.  

The context can come from many sources. Organizations mature in their SAFe transformation can share the portfolio canvas and any TOWS/SWOT Analysis if available. Other organizations, or those who don’t have those artifacts, would describe the existing or updated business model and how this work will help deliver value to the organization.  

  • Useful inputs include Strategic Themes and TOWS/SWOT analysis

The solution and its context – The workshop attendees must understand the solutions they will build to form teams that deliver value most efficiently. Solutions may support operational activities or solutions that the enterprise ultimately sells to external customers. The development value stream (DVS) Canvas created during the VSAIW describes the solutions, solution context, customer segments, and KPIs, amongst other key information, that this DVS services. Additionally, the ART Canvas provides specific details on the ART under consideration for this workshop, which solution it is responsible for, its mission, success measures, and technical assets impacted.  

It is also useful to provide the teams with a view of their customers through personas and empathy maps. Journey maps describe the customer’s experience interacting with the enterprise and its solutions. These inputs provide a better understanding of the work to be done and who it is for and drive the team design that can deliver value most efficiently. 

  • Useful inputs include DVS and ART Canvas, Personas Empathy Maps, and Journey Maps. 

The Solution architecture and roadmap – To self-select, teams need to understand the solution’s technical architecture and the anticipated work required to build it: 

  • The architectural runway describes the solution’s future-state components, infrastructure, and support for continuous delivery (the Continuous Delivery Pipeline) 
  • The solution roadmap forecasts the upcoming epic and significant features, both business and enabler 
  • Non-functional requirements (NFRs) specify likely constraints to the development or delivery of the solution 

This knowledge helps teams address skill shortages or bottlenecks around specific technologies to optimize the team design. Teams can apply the Team Topology types to their team and ART formation.  

  • Useful inputs here include the Architectural Runway, Solution Roadmap, NFRs 

Optimize for flow – Teams will organize around value to build the solution and its components, infrastructure, and support for the Continuous Delivery Pipeline (CDP). They need basic knowledge of team topology types and a general understanding of the delivery process, communicated by the solution’s Continuous Delivery Pipeline (CDP) and Value Stream Mapping.  

  • SAFe Artifacts: Team and ART topologies, the solution’s CDP, Value Stream Mapping 

back to top

Ensure the Right Attendees Participate

The workshop has a broad set of attendees collectively referred to as Emergent Knowledge Groups that may include stakeholders beyond the future ART team members who are either critical to the event or advantageous to supporting and experiencing the collaboration: 

  • Customer Centric Group – Key customer and business stakeholders who can provide insights into the problem and solution spaces 
  • Manager Group – Business Owners with business and technical responsibility for governance, compliance, and return on investment for the solution 
  • Team Group – ART leaders – Product Managers, System Arch/Engineer, Release Train Engineer (RTE), and the Product Owners for all proposed teams

Running the Workshop  

The schedule for this formation & self-selection workshop will adapt and use the Agile Mindset inherited from the Agile Manifesto for Software Development. Or, more aptly, in this context, the Agile Manifesto for Organizing Around Value. The workshop is also based on the thought leadership in the book “Creating Great Teams, Mamoli and Mole.” 

Deliver working software teams frequently from a 
couple of weeks tens of minutes to several a couple of months hours, with a 
preference to the shorter timescale.
Agile Manifesto Principle #3 

Business people and developers must work together to establish flow and achieve business agility daily throughout the project.  

Agile Manifesto Principle #4

This workshop follows the principles of Agile, Scrum, and SAFe to execute our collaboration and plan to achieve a shared commitment and understanding of your value stream network and ART using iterative and incremental development and the scientific method/PDCA. Remember, the goal is an organizational design hypothesis for the team of teams. This includes the design hypothesis for each team on the ART.

Build projects teams around motivated individuals. 
Give them the environment and support they need, 
and trust them to get the job done.  

Agile Manifesto Principle #5

The workshop is structured into two parts: an opening and a series of breakout sessions to form the teams (Figure 3). In the opening, organizational leaders explain the ART’s purpose and contribution to the larger enterprise. Then, the ART leaders present the solution the ART will build along with its vision, architecture, and anticipated roadmap for the teams to deliver. The second part is a series of time-boxed, self-selection activities to form the teams. Each section is described below. The product of the workshop is the well-formed ART, a testable hypothesis, and her teams! 

Description Timebox Agenda item Presenter 
Opening: ART Context (90-120 min)   15 minutes Vision for change Portfolio leaders 
20 minutes Solution vision and roadmap Product Management & Business Owners 
15 minutes Architectural vision System Architect/Engineering 
30 minutes Team visions/purpose Product Owners 
15 minutes Workshop schedule and agenda RTE & SPC/Coach 
Q&A 15 minutes Pause for questions All 
Breakout  Sessions 15 minutes Present the breakout process and objectives RTE & SPC/Coach 
45-90 minutes Form candidate teams All 
Figure 4: Team Self-Selection Workshop Agenda.

Templates are used to setup each proposed/potential team design formation. This can be done in-person using traditional means like stickies, marker boards, easel paper or remotely using digital templates.

Vision for change – People involved in the (organization of , or) reorganization of an ART will want to understand why they are reorganizing. The reason could be to pursue an opportunity, address business risk, or optimize development or operations. Organizational leaders present the reason behind the new initiative. They describe the business context for the change and how this new initiative supports the organization’s strategy. Share the results of any TOWS/SWOT analysis and the updated portfolio canvas showing this new development value stream in its larger business context. 

Solution vision and roadmap – Once the teams have the context, Product Management presents the vision for the ART’s solution(s):   

  • What type of product work will the teams be responsible for be doing
  • What are the teams’ design purpose and mission? 
  • Who are their customers? 
  • What will the technical and business focus be? 
  • What are you excited about? 

The inputs discussed earlier inform the ART members of the anticipated work and guide their organizational structure. Portions of the DVS and ART canvases describe the ART’s context. personas and customer journey maps represent the customer and how they will experience the solution. Backlog features and the roadmap describe the anticipated work to build the solution over time. As a reminder, not all inputs are always needed. 

Architectural Vision – System Architects present the solution’s technical vision to inform the teams on components that will be reused, modified, or created and the technologies used to develop them. It also tells the teams what infrastructure they will build to support the solution. 

Team Vision – Each Product Owner briefly describes their team’s role and responsibilities in achieving the solution as a team. The PO champions the input team design in the second system (SAFe Dual-operating system). They champion that team’s purpose, interaction modes, and topology in the grander scheme of defining a well-organized ART designed for flow around value. It is possible that entirely new team designs and formations could result from the interactions in the workshop. The person playing the PO role leading into and during the workshop is temporary until the formation is complete.   

It is possible for the workshop inputs—proposed team designs, topologies, the size of the ART, and which individuals are in which roles—to change during the workshop’s inspection and adaptation process. 

Workshop Schedule & Agenda – The RTE communicates the proposed ART’s workshop agenda for the duration of the time box.  The workshop format allows for multiple sprints through breakout sessions where the teams will “form” through collaboration, interaction, and development of a shared understanding of the ART’s purpose and selected team designs. 

Breakouts overview – The facilitator explains the Team Formation & self-selection process as a series of breakout sessions, or sprints, to form Agile teams. After each session, teams (led by the PO or new Team Coach) will provide a review and demo of the newly formed or forming team.  

The socialization of team members matches the purpose of Team Design and is intended to emerge from the sprints. Alignment and shared understanding lead to formation.  

Individuals are encouraged by the leadership to organize around the selected team design patterns. Teams discuss interaction modes for their team and the most appropriate design to support the system’s goals. Team members are welcome to invite others to join their team.   

Sometimes, team design and topology will require cross-functional agile teams to form to serve stream-aligned functions for the ART. In other cases, different topologies may be necessary to serve the purpose of the ART. Individuals and teams should be encouraged to balance trade-off decisions and consider the economics of the team formation. Alignment to the ARTs Business Canvas and that of the Portfolio should be a consideration for every team. The critical question for every team is, “have we aligned to optimize value delivery?” 

Breakouts – It’s important to let the teams converge on the right formation and solve the right problem(s). Apply design thinking. Allow the time and space for divergence and convergence. In the first few iterations, people will consume the information and give themselves time to explore and consume the details. Allow adequate breaks between iterations for teams to digest the latest formation and determine how they might improve. Repeat this process until done. 

back to top

What is a team formation hypothesis?

The “team formation hypothesis” is a concept often discussed in the context of organizational behavior and team dynamics. It suggests that the process of creating a team and bringing together individuals to work towards a common goal follows a predictable pattern or series of stages.

  1. Forming: In this initial stage, team members come together and begin to understand the goals and objectives of the team. They may also start to establish relationships with one another and explore their roles within the team.
  2.  Storming: As the team begins to work together more closely, conflicts and disagreements may arise. This stage is characterized by tension as team members assert their ideas and opinions. It’s a critical phase where the team must learn to manage conflicts constructively.
  3.  Norming: In this stage, the team starts to establish norms or rules of behavior. Team members develop a greater sense of cohesion and collaboration as they work through their differences and find common ground. Roles and responsibilities become clearer, and trust begins to build.
  4.  Performing: Once the team has resolved conflicts and established norms, it can move into the performing stage. Here, the team is highly functional, and members work together effectively to achieve their goals. There’s a strong sense of unity, and individuals contribute their skills and expertise towards the team’s success.
  5.  Adjourning: This final stage occurs when the team completes its task or project. Members may experience a sense of loss as the team disbands, especially if they’ve formed strong bonds. It’s an opportunity for reflection and celebration of the team’s accomplishments.

The team formation hypothesis helps leaders and team members understand the typical stages of group development, allowing them to anticipate challenges and support the team’s progress effectively.

The formation of the team includes individual team members listing their key skills and experiences on the team poster/board during the workshop. Each team member is “finding their place” through invitation or self-selection. Tuckman’s Model Step 1: Forming is the essential activity occurring during the workshop iterations. As the teams formation solidifies over the course of several workshop iterations, they will be able to formalize their team purpose and begin construction of the Team Charter.

Additionally, the team should analyze and discuss how their formation will create or eliminate dependencies in the team system, ART, and broader delivery and portfolio concerns.

How does the team know they have formed well? 

After each iteration the team will review and demo their team formation and purpose as predicated on the inputs to the workshop. If the team believes they have a viable solution for a team formation they should ask the team of teams, RTE, Product Management, Business Owners, and other stakeholders if the organization will accept their formation. The RTE and/or SPC will facilitate a team confidence vote.

Once all of the individuals have formed into teams meeting the acceptance criteria, the RTE and/or SPC will facilitate an ART confidence vote on the team of teams formations and hypothesis for optimized value delivery as organized around value. 

  • What does done look like?
    1. When the stakeholders believe the experiment and solution is going to address the problems and opportunities derived from Design Thinking
    2. The stakeholders/leaders/business owners accept the team formation(s)
      • The team formation hypothesis must be accepted by the leaders and business owners. Acceptance Criteria are used to determine if the input proposed team design and the team formation hypothesis are compatible, and acceptable.
    3. The ART hypothesis needs to have a definition of done. In other words, define what the complete, integrated networked team of teams success looks like.
    4. Will the teams formation hypothesis enable better, faster, more efficient, more effective flow?
    5. All individuals in the networks scope and design strategy have self-selected or been invited to be on a team and have accepted
  • Individuals and teams are content in the new organization? 
    • Individuals self-select or are invited to join teams. Contentment is relative. The foundation of high-performing lean-agile teams is the teaming concept. Traditional matrixed/project organizations culture may struggle with fixed long-lived team concepts and culture.
  • Take a confidence vote? 
    • The RTE and/or SPC facilitator should have each team perform a confidence vote on their team formation hypothesis

Figure 5. An example Team Design for an ART 

In the example outcome the SPC/RTE/Facilitator worked with the leaders, business owners, team members to establish the characteristics of the network scope and other Team Design Strategy inputs. The resulting matrix helps all participants see a way forward, and a vision for the future of work on the new ART. The matrix can include roles, team topologies/types, people, shared services & systems teams, business units, dependencies, and any other information that is useful for guiding high quality team formation decisions.

Artifacts used:

  • Team Design Strategy Template (Agile Rising)
  • Team Design Strategy Lean Canvas (Agile Rising)
  • Team Formation & Self-Selection Template (Agile Rising)
    • Team Charter


  • Zoom 
  • Manage rooms for teams, Use the Team Board.] 
  • Create Team Formation Panels in Studio 
  • Create Team Charter templates in Studio 
  • Adjust agenda – pattern is app 

back to top

Tips and Tricks to running a successful workshop 

What if I do not like the team that I am on?  

Please vote with your feet! There are many opportunities for every one of the stakeholders involved to have conversations and negotiate a move. If you believe that the team you are on right now is not a good fit, please ask for help from the team. Or go and talk to another team. State your case. Remember that we are trying to optimize the whole, not for any individual’s personal benefit. Or seek the help of a coach, manager, or change leader. 

How do I find a team that I like? I looked at all of them, but I didn’t see a place for me. 

While we all strive to find a perfect fit, the reality is that every organization and team has room for improvement — indefinitely. We recommend starting your journey by looking for the right balance of skills and experience on a team to create alignment with the vision and mission of the ART and team design strategy that is provided in the workshop. Why don’t you suggest a new team if you still cannot find the right team? This is an open forum for ideas, and optimization is desirable. Share your opinions respectfully! 

What does a cross-functional team mean? 

In SAFe, Agile teams are cross-functional groups of 5-11 individuals who define, build, test, and deliver an increment of value in a short time box. 

Solution delivery requires broad and diverse skills. One of the goals of organizing around value is to create teams that are not hampered by silos, handoffs, and structural bottlenecks. 

Technical teams define, build, test, and (where applicable) deploy some element of solution value. Business teams collaborate with them to provide a range of support that includes guardrails and other business parameters, infrastructure contracts and suppliers, end-user training, legal guidance, marketing, security and compliance expertise, fitness for use, and solution knowledge.  

Both types of teams strive for fast learning by performing work in small batches, assessing the results, and adjusting accordingly. All SAFe Agile teams include two key roles, the Scrum Master and?Product Owner. 

Outputs & Outcomes

After the iterations and the workshop, the formation of the ART and teams should be clear and present. The teams have determined the final Team design and formation for the experiment. The individual teams design hypotheses’ contribute to the resolution of the organizational design hypothesis. After running the system for a few PI’s, ART leaders should evaluate whether the design hypothesis is still true. If so, SAFe Principle #10, Organize around value has been realized.

Moving forward, the ART will attend or complete the SAFe for Teams course and will have successfully launched their ART!

The leaders, business owners, and teams will create OKRs to help track progress toward effectively using the strategy to achieve organizational, ART, and Team goals.

Here are some outputs from the workshop that the RTE will maintain during the testing of the hypothesis and ART execution.

  • Documented as-is team designs and formations (in descriptive form, relevant models, diagrams, flow, etc.)
  •  Model or diagram of hypothesis teams including type, number of, topology, purpose, benefits
  •  OKRs that will become relevant for determining progress toward the organization, ART, and team design goals
  •  Documented team design hypotheses’ for the ART served as part of the value stream network.
  •  We created a feedback loop, marker, and plan to test and validate the hypothesis over future planning intervals (PIs). The designs, formations, and feedback loops include a check-in plan for OKRs.

The organization has formed an Agile Team formation as an ART and design hypothesis for the teams that will serve on the Agile Release Trains (ARTs), as shared service teams, or systems teams that are part of the value stream network.

back to top

What’s next?

Continue to maintain and explore the Design Thinking paradigm and the Feedback Loops necessary to validate the design hypothesis. Apply SAFe Principle #10 Re-Organize Around Value.


[1] Creating Great Teams While Preparing for ART Launch – Summit talk 

[2] – SAFe

[3] Tuckman’s Model, Stages of Group Development;

[4] Mamoli, Sandy, and David Mole. Creating Great Teams. Pragmatic Bookshelf, 11 Nov. 2015.

back to top