What’s a captain for?

Two captains talking to an official

Two captains talking to an official

In case you didn’t know, I coach kids hockey and soccer. There are many lessons learned in sports coaching that I bring into the Agile world. Also there are many things I bring from the Agile world into sports coaching. There are probably enough discussion points to write a year’s worth of blog articles (or a chapter in a book) on the comparison between coaching software teams and coaching sports teams. Today I want to focus in on a question I was asked.

“What’s a captain for?”

I knew the question being asked was actually “What is role of the captain in hockey?” but as I was giving the answer, I couldn’t help thinking of the fact that we don’t have captains on software teams. Should we have captains on software teams? Let’s examine this by looking at some of the functions of a captain on a sports team.

According to Wikipedia:
In team sports, a captain is a title given to a member of the team. The title is frequently honorary, but in some cases the captain may have significant responsibility for strategy and teamwork while the game is in progress on the field. In either case, it is a position that indicates honor and respect from one’s teammates – recognition as a leader by one’s peers.

Depending on the sport, team captains may be given the responsibility of interacting with game officials regarding application and interpretation of the rules.

Let’s examine the key points:

  1. A title given to a member of the team – Sorry coaches and managers but this rules you out. It needs to be someone in the middle of the action. I’m going to get heat from managers who say they are in the middle of the action. Are you sure?
  2. The title is frequently honorary – We definitely have those in software development.
  3. Significant responsibility for strategy and teamwork while the game is in progress – This sounds like someone who makes decisions during the iteration or sprint. Sometimes decisions need to be made quickly, in the middle of the action. You can’t have every play sent in from the sideline. You need to response to challenges immediately.
  4. It’s a position that indicates honor and respect from one’s teammates – At the center of some effective teams you have these people. A none IT team that comes to mind is a surgeon and supporting group. It is a very effective team format for what they need to do.
  5. Recognition as a leader by one’s peers – Some sports have the captain chosen by the team itself while others the captain is selected by the coach. To have one selected by their peer’s carries much more weight and will prove to be much more effective.
  6. Given the responsibility of interacting with game officials regarding application and interpretation of the rules – I am envisioning someone asking for clarification of a requirement.

What do you think? Would you consider having a captain on your software team? What role are they currently in? Who would you give the ‘C’ to?

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