Make it Yours

March 2, 2019

A few years ago you could walk into just about any high tech company on the west coast and find teams, divisions, and release trains. Perhaps you would stumble over the occasional program or project if they weren’t agile. In all of these cases the terminology was and still is pretty consistent. Consistent is good, right?

Along comes Spotify and they introduce squads, guilds and tribes and everyone goes wild. What a bunch of rebels! It was hard not to walk into a company and have someone mention that they wanted to use the Spotify model. Some of this was admiration for the innovation exhibited by Spotify. And I suspect that some of what attracted people may have been the terminology.

I can help you out with that. I’ve got a thesaurus handy, so here are a few terms to spice up your otherwise boring organization descriptions:


…and there is a lot more where that came from. I think it’s time that we started to use names that work for us in our environments. Scrum and SAFe have their stock labels for things. That’s a nice starting point, but there’s no reason that you can’t change them. Go ahead, call your team a Moiety (you know…a moiety: In organic chemistry, a moiety is a part of a molecule which is typically given a name as it can be found within other kinds of molecules as well). Yeah, I had to look that one up. Why would I do something silly like that? Because my moiety is unique. Our teams work on tools for chemists? Because we’re all former chem majors?

Look, to be honest, you really don’t need much of a reason to call your teams something different. Go ahead, grab a thesaurus and have a little fun. Don’t be afraid to express yourself. Make it yours.

A Team Named “Sue”

October 8, 2014


My daddy left home when I was three
And he didn’t leave much to ma and me
Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze.
Now, I don’t blame him cause he run and hid
But the meanest thing that he ever did
Was before he left, he went and named me “Sue.”

-Johnny Cash, A Boy Named Sue

I love this song. It makes me chuckle every time I hear it. Its a story about a man who names his son “Sue” because he knows it will be the source of mockery and make him into a stronger man. It’s a tongue in cheek little rhyme that covers themes of fathers, sons, manhood and what’s in a name.

Today I was looking at a list of team names. Every single team in the list had named themselves after whatever they were working on. For example, there might be names like Printing Team, or UI Team, or Database Team. And check this out: if there was more than one Printing Team, guess what they called the second team? You got it: Printing Team 2.

I shook my head and thought to myself, “Who named you Sue?”

Right off the bat, I have to confess that I’m really a bit mystified by this kind of behavior. I refuse to believe that a normal human being, not coerced by any outside force, would name themselves after whatever they are working on. I’m working on a Mac right now. Maybe I should change my name to Mac too…nope…not gonna do it. It doesn’t make any sense to me (and I’m not really Scottish). I would rather name myself after something fun or aspirational. I’d use things like:

  • Mountains (Team Everest, Denali, or K2)
  • Animals (Team Angus, Viper, or Gerbil)
  • Cartoon Characters (Team Mickey, Goofy, or Donald)
  • Tools (Team Hammer, Bandsaw, or Monkey Wrench)
  • Rock bands (The Police, Metallica, or Tower of Power)

The possibilities are endless…just like my cliches. Often I think that a team is either intentionally or unintentionally given a name by those who are sponsoring or responsible for setting up the team. After all, early in a project, before everyone shows up, you need a name for this new thing. Often this name is used purely for utilities sake, perhaps with the assumption that the team will replace the name with one of their own. The team adopts it by default, because that’s what everyone else calls them, and they never bother to change it again.

I’m sure there are also places that just tell teams what they want them named. Hello, welcome to Acme! We’re going to put you on team “Sue”. I think that’s ridiculous. Here are my rules for team naming (don’t worry, no one will adopt them):

  1. You can’t name yourself after what you are working on
  2. No one individual can name the team. The team must name itself

If you want someone to feel empowered and respected, you really need to let them decide what they are going to be called. If you can’t even do something as trivial as that, then you are probably going to struggle in other areas too.

So what are your rules for naming teams?