Organizing Teams on the ART with the Team Formation Workshop

By Marshall Guillory, Chief Transformation Officer (CTO), Co-Founder, Agile Rising

Note: This article is part of the Community Contributions series, which provides additional points of view and guidance based on the experiences and opinions of the extended SAFe community of experts.

Organizing Agile Release Trains (ARTs) around development value streams ensures they can define, build, test, and release solutions. 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.

The Team Formation Workshop is a collaborative event that helps organize the ART into cross-functional, value-aligned Agile teams. This workshop allows leaders, stakeholders, and team members to explore different team design options and decide the best way forward.


The Team Formation Workshop provides the time and space to collaborate on alternative team designs and evaluate how the teams will best organize to deliver the ART’s value. This workshop is used after the Value Stream Identification Workshop and is often followed by SAFe for Teams as part of a SAFe Quick ART Launch, as shown in Figure 1.

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

Figure 1. The Team Formation Workshop in the larger SAFe context

The remainder of the article will discuss the activities needed to effectively prepare for and run the Team Formation Workshop.

Preparing for the workshop

Achieving good outcomes from the Team Formation Workshop requires proper preparation. The Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE) typically organizes the workshop led by someone within the LACE or the Release Train Engineer (RTE), (ideally the teams’ future RTE). There are two primary steps to preparing for the workshop: collecting inputs and getting the right attendees. Each is described below.

Ensure the Right Attendees

The Team Formation Workshop has a broad set of attendees beyond the future ART team members who are either critical to the event or advantageous to supporting and experiencing the collaboration. Depending on the size of the network the number of potential teams for an ART could be 5-12 and over 125 people involved:

  • Key customer and business stakeholders who can provide insights into the problem and solution spaces
  • Business Owners with business and technical responsibility for governance, compliance, and return on investment for the solution
  • ART leaders – Product Managers, System Arch/Eng, and Release Train Engineer (RTE) as well as Product Owners, Scrum Masters/Team Coaches for all teams (known or potential individuals in the roles)
  • Individuals identified during the Value Stream and ART Identification Workshop who are part of the DVS, including Shared Services and System Teams, Marketing, Legal, Contracts, and others.
  • Representatives from other development value streams or parts of the business that are stakeholders or dependents of the new ART

The Team Formation Workshop is typically facilitated over a one-half to full-day session or longer as needed based on complexity and scale as the inputs, analysis, design, and formation activities are incrementally created. You can find more details for each step by reading Agile Rising’s article series [1].

Collect and create workshop inputs

Workshop attendees need to understand the business context, the problem they are solving, 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 2 summarizes potential workshop inputs, which are detailed further below.

Figure 2: Potential inputs to the Team Formation Workshop

Problem to be solved

Useful inputs include Strategic Themes, TOWS/SWOT Analysis, Business Goals and Objectives, Key Results (OKRs)

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. 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 without those artifacts, would describe the existing or updated business operating model and how this work will help deliver value to the organization.

Solution(s) context and customer journey

Useful inputs here include the DVS and ART Canvases, Personas, Empathy Maps, Journey Maps, Value Stream Maps

The workshop attendees must understand the solutions they will build to form teams that deliver value most efficiently. Some solutions may support operational activities, while others are products the enterprise ultimately sells to external customers. The development value stream (DVS) Canvas created during the Value Stream and ART Identification Workshop 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 and who it is for to help drive the team design that can deliver value most efficiently.

Future work required to build the solution architecture and roadmap

Useful inputs here include the Architectural Runway, Solution/Product Roadmap, NFRs

To design, form, and ultimately 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 approach to implementing a continuous delivery pipeline
  • The solution roadmap forecasts the upcoming epics along with significant features, both business and enabler
  • Non-functional requirements (NFRs) specify 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.

Organize for flow

Useful inputs here include Team and ART topologies, the steps in the continuous delivery pipeline, value stream maps

Teams will design and 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, often illustrated by the CDP steps and the outputs of a Value Stream Mapping exercise. Whenever possible, the organization should complete value stream mapping for the “as-is” and desirable “future state” of the flow of work prior so the artifacts may be inputs to the Team Formation Workshop event.

Running the workshop

The Team Formation workshop is structured into two parts: an opening and a series of breakout “team design sprint sessions” to form the teams (see Figure 3). In the opening, organizational leaders explain the ART’s purpose and contribution to the larger enterprise in the context of the proposed team design hypothesis. Then, the ART leaders present the solution the ART will build from, along with its vision, architecture, and anticipated roadmap for the teams to deliver. The second part is a series of timeboxed, iterative design, formation, and self-selection activities to form the teams. Each section is described below.

Figure 3. Team Formation Workshop Agenda.

Opening: Team Formation & ART Context

Vision for change

People involved in organizing or reorganizing an ART will want to understand why they are reorganizing. The reasons are typically related to a story about a burning platform or proactive leadership but could also be related to the pursuit of an opportunity, addressing business risk, or optimizing development or operations. Organizational leaders present the reasoning behind the new initiative. They describe the business context for the change and how this new initiative supports the organization’s goals and 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?
  • 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 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 Visions

Each volunteer or self-selected Product Owner (sometimes pre-selected by business owners) briefly describes their team’s role and responsibilities in achieving the solution as a team. The Product Owner champions the team design and helps the team form within the network. 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.

Breakout Session Sprints Schedule & Agenda

The facilitator (a SAFe SPC or RTE) communicates the proposed ART’s iterative and incremental sprint agenda for the duration of the workshop time box. The workshop format allows for multiple sprints through breakout sessions. The teams will “form” through collaboration, interaction, and developing a shared understanding of the ART’s purpose and selected team designs.

Breakout Sessions (Sprints)

Breakout Process and Objectives

The facilitator explains the Team Formation & self-selection process as a series of breakout sessions, or sprints, to design and form Agile teams. Individuals are encouraged by the leadership and the facilitator to organize (by self-selection) around the team design patterns. Teams will have the opportunity to discuss and collaborate to determine 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.

Team Forming

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

The PO should begin documenting the vision for the team on the Team Board during the sprints. A team board is a visual tool used to organize, display, and manage information about the team design, the hypothesis for the design and formation, and associated team characteristics and activities. It typically includes team member information, team goals and objectives, the team’s responsibilities, and other information. The team board serves as a central hub for the team to stay organized, aligned, and focused on their common objectives throughout the workshop and beyond. For more information on the usage of a Team Board, see the Agile Rising website [2].

The team’s formation includes individual team members listing their key knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences on the Team Board before or during the workshop. Good facilitation techniques include preparing each attendee with a list of items and information they should bring to the event. A template or “event kit” provided days before is a great way to ensure a successful event. Each team member is “finding their place” through invitation or self-selection. Step 1 of Tuckman’s model [3], Forming, is the essential activity of the workshop sprints. As the team’s design and formation solidify over several workshop sprints, they can formalize their purpose and begin to construct the Team Charter, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Agile Team Charter example template

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.

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 an individual’s benefit. Or seek the help of a coach, manager, or change leader.

How do I find a team that has an ideal 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. If someone needs help finding the right team, suggest a new team. This is an open forum for ideas, and optimization is desirable. Share your opinions respectfully!

Review Team Design and Take Confidence Vote

After each sprint, the team will review and demonstrate its team design hypothesis, formation, and purpose, as predicated on the inputs from the workshop. If the team believes it has a viable solution for team formation, it should ask the team of teams (ART), RTE, Product Management, Business Owners, and other stakeholders if the organization will accept it. The RTE or SPC will facilitate a team confidence vote.

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

  • The stakeholders believe the teams and ART as a design and formation experiment and solution are going to address the problems and opportunities
  • The stakeholders/leaders/business owners accept the team formation(s) and Team design hypotheses.
  • The overall ART design hypothesis needs to have a definition of done. In other words, define what the complete, integrated networked team of team’s success looks like.
  • The team’s design hypothesis and formations will enable better, faster, more efficient, and more effective flow
  • All individuals in the network 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
  • The ART passes a confidence vote


Activities for creating the team design strategy are handled differently in every organization. The most common is for managers to meet, determine which individuals should be on which team, and assign staff to teams on the ART.

The Team Formation 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 process. The outcome of the workshop is a collaboratively designed and formed team of teams prepared to learn about SAFe and launch an ART with the SAFe for Teams course!


[1] Guillory, Marshall, and Agile Rising. Article Series: Organizing & Forming Agile Teams Around Value

[2] Agile Rising Team Formation Workshop Template. Mural website.

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

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

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

Last Update: 2 July 2024