• Marina Alex

SWAY Dream Team

Updated: Jan 27

The rocket uses the maximum of its energy at launch. About 80% of the fuel burns in those first seconds. Yet, these moments are crucial in order to get airborne, overcome gravity, and enter into the orbit.


Same is true for the team: it is difficult to create one and, yes, it may be challenging to set up teamwork processes. But once you've done that, the team organizes itself and works effectively.


SWAY team is essential for every company. It allows the owner to abandon the micromanagement "operation mode" and have the time to observe how productive the business is. That's why every executive wants to create their own dream team.

Marina Alex, an international Agile expert, coach, and the author of the SWAY system (Sales with Agile), told us how to create a truly Agile team. Marina shared her knowledge and experience she had gained in the fields, and most, importantly, the insights she acquired while working on real cases.


What is a SWAY team?


The SWAY system was developed to implement Agile methodology in sales. But in less than 2 years, effectiveness of SWAY has been proven in all types of companies (B2B, B2C, B2G, startups) and in almost all areas pf business (marketing, medicine, HR, television, etc.). At the heart of the SWAY system, there is a self-organized cross-functional team of professionals united by a common goal, values, and motivation. The team usually consists of 4-9 people (including the Business Owner and the Coach).


So, let's look at each word in the definition of the SWAY team.


A self-organized team is able to achieve the goal on their own. Yet, it does not just happen on a hunch: the team is usually transformed or made into a “self-organized” one. That's where the SWAY Coach comes into play. Values and goals are the cement that holds the team together.


A value is something that has a deep meaning for everyone. It defines our beliefs and our actions. It marks what we stand up for. Every company has their own values. In fact, values constitute the foundation of any business culture. Working for a company whose values you share can be a true bliss.


At the beginning of the Agile transformation, you need to make sure your team creates a list of values. There's no need to invent them: values are to be discovered. What unites your team? What helps the team work effectively? If you're in the process of starting a new team, design a survey and pick those specialists who share the principal values of the company.



The goal set for the team should be understandable and achievable. Each team member should believe in it. If each employee in the sales department is tied to their own KPIs, which determine salary and bonus, then it will be difficult for the department to switch to Agile. No wonder sales people are often referred to as lone wolves. That's were we arrive at an important concept of motivation.


A financial aspect of the motivation equation is, perhaps, the most important and complex one. You can't start a revolutionary change by revising incentive schemes adopted at the company. Yet, you need to gradually move away from personal incentive plans in favor of team ones.


Team motivation should be linked to a common goal and built on the same principle: exceed the target = get a salary + sales commission. Salary is not reduced proportionally to the increase in bonus value. On the contrary, sales commission is added on top of the salary. This way, employees don't lose anything, and they don't perceive Agile changes as something hostile. At the same time, people are motivated to succeed as they are expected to get more financial rewards than before. Even though the salary may be different for everyone, as it depends on schedule, work experience, and professional skills of a particular employee, the motivation principle remains the same for all team members.


There are 3 types of SWAY teams that ensure success of the company.


- A Functional Team consists of representatives of the same department with the SAME functions: sales department OR marketing department OR IT Department, OR HR Department.


- A Cross-functional Team is usually comprised of specialists of different departments with DIFFERENT functions: sales + marketing + IT + logistics + accounting + legal department, etc. The team must include all employees involved in the sales cycle.


- The team of top managers (owners, senior level executives, etc.).



A perfect SWAY team is usually a cross-functional team. To create it, the company selects employees from various departments. This way, all specialists have different functional expertise and experience.Proficient in various areas, the members of a cross-functional team complement each other perfectly. Team members look at the situation from different perspectives and come up with unexpected solutions. Such a cross-functional team functions autonomously while successfully achieving their goals, for example, completing a sales plan (in the field of commerce) or releasing a finished product (in the IT field).At the same time, the team is able to make prompt decisions, bring products/services to the market quickly, and make the client happy in a timely manner.There may be dozens of such teams in one company.


Park Hotel Porto Mare (Crimea): World's First Agile Transformation in Hospitality Industry.


This case exemplifies the importance of creating a cross-functional team of top managers. Porto Mare's c-level team consisted of the chief financial officer as well as heads of the key departments (marketing, sales, supply, medical center, entertainment and recreation, etc.) The teams chose to work in weekly sprints. The General Director of the hotel assumed the role of the Business Owner (or, the Captain of the Ship.) Not only did he create and prioritize goals for the team, but also he set the tone of the entire Agile transformation. A transparent motivation system was developed: if the team reached the goal, the bonus was equally divided between all team members. In addition, net profit commission was distributed among the entire staff of the hotel.


So, what is a cross-functional team? It is the team that includes representatives of completely different departments. At first glance, nothing seems to be in common between the head of the supply department and the head of the maintenance department. Indeed, what can possibly unite them? Well, if the team shares a vision, and this vision has been created during their work on the SWAY Canvas, all departments pursue strategic goals together The whole team understands that all staff has to be on board in order to increase the business' profit margin (and that was the goal set for Park Hotel Porto Mare). Smooth functioning of one department often depends on decisions made by another. So, imagine, you need to renovate the rooms and increase room availability In this case, the suppliers are dependent on the maintenance service, i.e. they need to supply building materials to their foremen. In turn, the service technicians depended on the suppliers: if the materials are not delivered on time, all construction and finishing work slows down or stops all together.


Bauservice (one of the leading companies in the Russian wholesale market for ceramic granite, ceramic tiles, dry construction mixes, and related materials): Creating a cross-functional team for a specific project.


Once a year, the company invites all its partners to a business gala. The purpose of the event is to present new products with the "wow factor". Specifically for this project, a small cross-functional team was created. The team did not include all executive managers but only those who were directly involve in organizing this event. Every day team members got together at the Daily session. Likewise, they regularly had Planning, Retrospective and Demo meetings where the participants showed the result to the CEO who also assumed the role of the Business Owner. The team was united by a time-bound specific project as the wow-show for the partners was scheduled in three months. Sure enough, the team succeeded. Upon the completion of the project, the participants re-organized themselves in other teams.


Therefore, you can either create a cross-functional team for the entire period of the company's work, or you can help the employees organize themselves into a cross-functional team for a specific project, work in weekly sprints, conduct SWAY events, while simultaneously participating in other activities.


Team line-up: distribution of roles.


There are no titles or positions on the SWAY team. Instead, there are roles: the Business Owner,the Coach, and the Team.




The role of the Business Owner is usually assumed either by the owner of the company (it is especially true for small businesses), or a senior executive who oversees the company's finances. The Business Owner knows what customers want and sets quantitative and qualitative goals for team members. Yet, the Business Owner never tells the team how to achieve those goals: this is something the team decides by themselves.

The team chooses a Coach whose skill set includes advanced coaching, facilitation, mediation, mentoring, and communication competences. The Coach has a completely different function than the head of the department. The Coach helps the team achieve super-results without having the authority to give orders and distribute tasks among employees. The team can re-elect the Coach, for example, after a month, if it becomes clear that the Coach is not quite up to the task.

The Team is responsible for the result of the work. In case of failure, no one assigns blame but finds and corrects the cause of the mistake. For instance, to avoid future mishaps, the Team can take fewer Sprint tasks, invite another professional, or explore new tools. Besides, if someone from the team is overloaded with work, the colleagues are always there to help.


Agile in Healthcare: Case Studies


The chain of dental clinics "President" (40+ dental clinics, Moscow).


The management of the chain decided to conduct Agile transformation in one of the clinics. Before the changes, the clinic employed 35 people, 8 of whom were executives. Upon the commence of the Agile transformation, one executive position as well as three cross-functional teams were created. Each team consisted of same shift employees of all levels - from security guards and receptionists to nurses and doctors. The goal was to ensure effective communication between team members so that they could use their skills to cover the entire range of services.

A Business Owner synchronized the work of all teams and provided guidance for team coaches. The teams worked on 2/2 schedule (two working days followed by two non-working ones), so the dailies were conducted accordingly. In addition, all teams met at joint Planning and Demo sessions as well as Retrospectives. Joint activities helped the teams stay in sync and avoid competition which often occurs when several cross-functional teams are launched simultaneously. All teams had their own Kanban boards where team goals and targets were listed. The speed of decision-making in the clinic increased, as each of the teams consisted the chief physician, administrator, several doctors and nurses, a cleaner, and even a security guard.

Once people realized that they can now actively influence the result, their involvement has increased significantly. A simple but telling example: a security guard, once resting in front of the TV all day long, started greeting patients, asking about their health and mood.

Due to changes in the structure and the culture of the clinic, its financial performance increased significantly. The quality of service improved greatly as well. As did the diagnostic accuracy as doctors, working in teams, were able to exchange their professional ideas and collectively address health issues of each patient.

As a result, this clinic has become a model of successful Agile transformation for other branches.


The IVF center.


The medical center deals with the diagnosis and treatment of infertility. The Sprint goal set for the medical team was to increase the birth rate! If the birth rate increased, mothers would start recommending the clinic to everyone else in need. This way, the financial plan of the organization will be fulfilled as well. To achieve this goal, we created cross-functional teams, switched to Sprints, and adapted Scrum (back then, SWAY system had not been designed yet).

Cross-functional teams were formed based on the shift schedule of employees. The head of the clinic assumed the role of the Business Owner. The Retrospective helped the team to create continuous improvements that directly affected the fulfillment of the Sprint goal, that is, increasing the birth rate.

This case proved that not only does Agile make families happy, but also it helps create life.


Clinical oncology center (Saint Petersburg)


This is the company where Agile had been implemented since the start. It's great if there's an opportunity to create a cross-functional team at the very beginning of your business.

Here, the task was to create a cross-functional team of doctors who could design a special set of services for patients and respond very quickly to the patients' requests. In short, a team of doctors of different specialties was to be involved in patient care. That way, a person did not have to go from office to office and tell their story over and over again. The whole team had access to all the information to design effective treatment of the patient. This approach improved the quality of medical services, the accuracy of diagnosis, and the effectiveness of treatment.


Agile in Healthcare: Key Takeaways


1. The entire shift must work in one cross-functional team (starting with doctors and nurses and ending with the service staff) to cover the entire range of services.

2. Synchronization with other teams of the clinical center is essential. At least once a month, the teams need to touch base during the joint planning session.

3. All SWAY events are mandatory. For example, during the morning daily, the entire team analyzes new medical cases and decides on what needs to be done to ensure that the quality of services is 10 out of 10.


Medical cases once again confirm that Agile is suitable for any field of business activity and should not be monopolized by the software developers.Flexible methods do help companies increase profits, save lives, and create new ones!



Designing an Agile Team: a Step by Step Plan.


Step 1. Identify/create values that you rely on when recruiting people to your new team. You can also ask the members of your current team rank your values on a scale of 1 to 10. This way, you'll know if you're on the same page.

Step 2. Create a common goal to unite your team, and come up with a prize that the team will receive when this goal is accomplished. Remember, it's not just about monetary incentives. It's about inspiration.

Step 3. Assign the roles. If the Business Owner is responsible for the strategy vision and external communication, the SWAY Coach creates a productive environment within the team and works on its self-organization and synchronization with other teams. The effectiveness of the Team depends directly on how well the roles are defined.

Step 4. Measure professionalism within the team. First, you need to understand what skills the team needs to achieve the goal. We recommend a tool called "A Stellar competency map". Second, on a scale of 1 to 10, rank how well the team members display the competences you require (8 is the go to number!) Third, determine which professionals you need to invite to your team.

Step 5. Organize communication between team members. If you have a distributed team, be sure to create a chat room for work and a chat room where people can simply share food recipes, relationship advice, or photos of their children and cats. If the team is located in the office, organize informal gigs - games, barbecues, etc - at least every other week. People need to interact with each other not only because of work!



Team building mistakes


1. There is absolutely no point in creating a cross-functional or functional team if people do not have a common goal. That's why you need to come up with a goal that can unite the team and think of the prize-reward. This technique is especially important if you work with a sales team or an executive team where people are used to relying individual KPIs.

2. There are no team members with specific skills that are necessary for achieving goals. For example, if there is neither marketing specialist nor designer, the team will have to contact other departments to ask for help in these matters. This will lead to lost time and confusion.

3. The team has a lot of cool people who feel good together and are friends, but there are no real professionals in the field where you need to achieve goals. Agile doesn't teach you how to sell, treat, or create TV shows or ads. Agile changes the mindset of employees, the culture of the company, its structure and processes, and this does require real professionals. Therefore, at the very beginning of Agile transformation, you need to do your research and find out what specialists you want in your team.

4. It's dangerous mistake to consider that only money motivates individuals. People don't trust each other just because they get paid. It is important to create an environment of trust and safety in the team. Only then can the team come up with a unique motivation scheme that will inspire everyone.


A real business life example: a team wanted to help various charity foundations - someone donated money for sick kids, someone was committed to saving animals in need, someone was passionate about protecting the nature around Lake Baikal and so on. The management proposed the following incentive scheme: when a financial goal was reached, a certain commission fee was distributed to the team and part of that commission fee was divided and donated to multiple charities. The team exceeded the target by 200% simply because they wanted to help those in need. Such actions can truly inspire people and benefit the business!


5. One of the most common mistakes, especially at the beginning of the transformation: team members confuse the role and position. For example, the Business Owner continues to direct and command. And the Coach turns into a team secretary, forgetting about the main task — to inspire, develop, and create.


The Anti - Case.


The company, which specialized in sales of equipment for large state-owned enterprises, decided to expand their business through new market development: the company pledged to create a new sales cycle and abandon government bids in favor of private contracts. To do this, the management created a cross-functional Agile team. Yet, as opposed to skilled professionals, the management recruited their friends and colleagues - so, a corporate buyer turned into a marketing specialist and delivery associate was converted into a salesman. Besides, kindred spirits, they worked well together and shared the same values, but they weren't professionals. Sure, their engagement was tremendous, the team did work 24/7 and truly enjoyed the process. Everyone tried to achieve the goal, but six month later they did not manage to do it — sales were down to zero, because team members did not have possess skills that were necessary for success. As a result, it took six additional months just to develop those skills.


Our final advice. Keep praising the team for their success on the daily, Demo, Retrospective and other evens, do provide the feedback, and motivate your people to win. The leader is the captain of the ship for each team, and the team mirrors the leader. If the leader is a sad, inadequate, or just angry, the team will mirror it and become the same. If the leader is a person who sets ambitious goals, tries new things and is not afraid to make mistakes and inspires people to develop, then this leader will have a unique team - a dream team.


Download: SWAY guide

Download: SWAY Canvas

Download: Value proposition

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