What are Agile Teams: The Spotify Model

Agile is a project management method that divides a project into numerous iterative phases in which requirements and solutions evolve as a result of continuous collaboration with stakeholders. Also, the main aim of Agile methodology is to enable self-organizing cross-functional groups to create value faster and adjust to change more effectively.
Inspr team
2021/12/05 • 11 min read

Self-organizing cross-functional groups are also known as Agile teams. Agile teams are made up of qualified professionals who have the appropriate knowledge and experience to develop products. Typically, an agile team has everything they need to complete multiple phases of a product, including development, testing, deployment, and product maintenance.

Additionally, agile teams have the following characteristics:

  • Small group with about 5-9 people.
  • Focused on meeting deadlines.
  • Coordinated in terms of task execution.
  • Recognized the value of each role's contribution.
  • Encourages team members to take initiative and achieve success.
  • Ability to adapt to the changing end-user requirements

What are Key Roles on an Agile Team?

An agile team is composed of some major roles, which include Product owner or client, Scrum master or team leader, development team, and stakeholders. It is essential to have the right people in the role to support continuous improvement.

Product Owner

The Product Owner is the individual who is most knowledgeable about the product. In addition, the product owner is responsible for communicating product requirements to the team and has the authority to make adjustments to the project scope. If there is a problem with the product, the product owner should be notified.

Scrum Master/Team Leader

While the Product Owner is concerned with the product, the Scrum Master/Team Leader is concerned with the process;

  • Assuring that the team adheres to the best agile practices for the situation at hand.
  • Inspecting Team Members' job progress daily to ensure that they meet deadlines.
  • Giving Team Members constructive feedback on their performance.
  • Obtaining feedback from end-users through the Product Owner/Client.
  • Assuring that the Product Owner understands the goals and quality standards.

Team Members

The team members consist of several people who have been allocated to various product activities. They are also in charge of ensuring that iterations are completed within the specified time frame.

  • Team members truly work as a team and rely on one another for assistance. At the same time, they play to each other's strengths and work closely together.
  • Team members share knowledge and act as mentors to one another.
  • Team members are better suited to support each other when they have a shared skill set. They're also more capable of changing technological expertise if necessary.
  • Team members work hard to produce the finest possible result from each iteration.


Stakeholders aren't actively involved in the agile team/project creation process, but they are in charge of setting the foundation. Apart from discussing their requirements with the product owners/clients, they also address project development concerns and communicate any changes to the product plan.

The Spotify Model

With an estimated 356 million users, Spotify is the world's largest and most popular audio streaming subscription service. Spotify's success is largely due to the company's unique strategy of organizing around work to enhance team agility.

Spotify's engineering teams documented their journey toward greater agility, shared it with the world, and changed how many tech businesses organize around work. It's the Spotify model.

What is the Spotify model?

The Spotify model is an autonomous, people-driven approach to agile scaling that emphasizes the value of culture and network. It has benefited Spotify and other companies in enhancing creativity and productivity by focusing on autonomy, communication, accountability, and quality.

According to Spotify coach Henrik Kniberg, the Spotify model isn't a framework because it represents Spotify's approach to scaling from both a technical and cultural perspective. It is one way to organize several teams in a product development company, and it emphasizes the importance of culture and networks.

The Spotify methodology was initially revealed to the public in 2012 when Henrik Kniberg and Anders Ivarsson published the document Scaling Agile At Spotify, which detailed the company's radically straightforward approach to agility.

Since then, the Spotify model has acquired a lot of traction and acceptance, given the fact that it focuses on how businesses can build their organizations to allow agility rather than following a set of rules (e.g., daily standups).

Furthermore, the Spotify model encourages team autonomy by allowing each team or Squad to select their own framework, such as Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, and so on.

What are the Key elements of the Spotify Agile model?

Spotify identified a few key elements for how people and teams should be formed when they started organizing their work.


An agile squad and its characteristics
An agile squad and its characteristics

A Squad is similar to a Scrum team and is meant to feel like a small startup. They are located together and have all of the necessary skills and tools to design, create, test, and release to production.

Also, they are a self-organizing team that chooses its own method of working – some use Scrum sprints, others use Kanban, and some utilize the combination of the two.

Additionally, using an e-commerce system as an example, each squad has a long-term goal, such as developing and refining the user experience, designing the checkout service, growing the Database infrastructure, or implementing payment options. The diagram below shows how different squads are in charge of different aspects of an application.

Squad divisions for various company contexts
Squad divisions for various company contexts

Moreover, squads are encouraged to make use of Lean Startup ideas such as MVP (minimum viable product) and validated learning. MVP means releasing early and often, and verified learning refers to the use of metrics and split testing to determine what works and what does not. The slogan summarizes this: "Think it, build it, ship it, adjust it."

A tribe is a collection of squads that work on similar projects, such as the marketplace or the backend infrastructure of an e-commerce system.

Various squads compose a Tribe
Various squads compose a Tribe

Additionally, the tribe serves as an "incubator" for the squad's small business, with a good amount of autonomy and flexibility. Each tribe has a tribe leader who is responsible for ensuring that the squads within that tribe have the finest possible environment.

Also, the size of tribes is determined by the "Dunbar number," which states that most people cannot establish a social interaction with more than 100 people. As a result, tribes are limited to less than 100 members.


Groups formed by members of different squads to define best practices
Groups formed by members of different squads to define best practices

Although Squads are self-contained, it is essential that experts such as Senior Developers, Database administrators, etcetera are on the same page regarding best practices. Chapters are in each squad, and they help to maintain engineering standards across disciplines.

Moreover, Each chapter - for example, the testing chapter, the web developer chapter, or the Andriod chapter - meets regularly to discuss their area of expertise.


Community of interest formed by members of different squads
Community of interest formed by members of different squads

A Guild is a more organic and broad-based "community of interest," a group of people who desire to share information, tools, code, and best practices. In addition, a guild frequently spans the entire organization. They are also known as the "Maven."

Trio (also known as the TPD Trio) combines the roles of Tribe Lead, Product Lead, and Design Lead. When working on service, each Tribe has a Trio in place to ensure that these three perspectives are always aligned.

When businesses grow, numerous Tribes may be required to collaborate closely to achieve a common purpose. Tribe Trios (usually three or more) form Alliances to enable their Tribes to collaborate on a purpose that is bigger than a single Tribe.

Group of tribes
Group of tribes

What are the Benefits of the Spotify Agile model?

Spotify modified the way they scaled agile partially because they wanted Squads to be able to move promptly, deploy software quickly, and do so with minimal pain and overhead. They discovered these advantages and more as they refined their model. They discovered benefits like

  • Processes and ceremonies are less formalized: The Spotify model emphasizes the importance of organizing around work rather than processes and ceremonies. This gives an organization more flexibility in how Squads operate. Rather than compelling Squads to modify how they work, it focuses on aligning them with one another and working toward individual team goals.
  • More autonomy and self-management: The Spotify model promotes autonomy and creativity by trusting people to complete the task in the way they see fit. Is it necessary to replace the cart service? It's up to the Squad to decide. Do you need to take a different approach to development? It's up to the Squad to decide. These benefits are due to Spotify's emphasis on decentralizing decision-making and delegating it to Squads, Tribes, Chapters, and Guilds.

What Challenges can occur with the Spotify model?

This model is far from perfect. There have been numerous insights from former Spotify employees detailing the model's flaws.

“It worries me when people look at what we do and think it’s a framework they can just copy and implement. … We are really trying hard now to emphasize that we have problems as well. It’s not all ‘shiny, and everything works well, and all our squads are super amazing.’” - Anders Ivarsson, co-author of the Spotify white paper.

  • Engineering culture is not an organizational structure: Spotify Engineering Culture was the name of the initial content that explained their process. Although they outlined an organizational structure, the focus was on their engineering culture and its basic working principles.
  • The model was ambitious, and it was not fully implemented: Spotify's white paper was a mix of ambition and reality when it was released. They were laying out a future plan.
    “Even at the time we wrote it, we weren’t doing it. It was part ambition, part approximation. People have really struggled to copy something that didn’t really exist.” - Joakim Sundén, agile coach at Spotify 2011–2017
  • Collaboration between teams was assumed to be competence: As the number of teams increased, it became clear that specific support was required to guide and structure team collaboration. Dedicated structures or processes are required to allow teams that are not necessarily linked to collaborate.

The Spotify model is not the same thing it was a decade ago, and that’s the beauty of it. It recognizes and highlights the need to learn, expand and modify.

How to Create a Remarkable Agile Team following the Spotify model

Spotify's model is an excellent source of inspiration for organizations trying to promote a culture of trust, autonomy, and rapid learning. But here is the thing;

  • Don’t copy the model: Investigate Spotify's approach to learn about its structure, procedures, and mindset. With this knowledge, you can adjust the model's features to suit your business environment. The goal isn't to become Spotify but to use their approach to better how your organization collaborates.
  • Autonomy and trust are essential: Spotify offered its people as much autonomy as possible to let them pivot swiftly. Allowing teams to use their preferred development tools, modifying another team’s code are a few examples. You can determine if decisions can be delegated to teams rather than the parts of the organization that are not involved in day-to-day operations.
  • Transparency with the community: Spotify's success can be attributed to its emphasis on community and transparency in its operations. You may create the organization’s first Guild around the implementation of the Spotify model and invite everyone in the organization to participate. Also, build trust by creating transparent, inclusive ways to collect feedback and gain alignment on how the organization plans to work in the future.
  • Promote Learning From Mistakes: Improvement is a result of experimenting and learning from both successes and failures. Likewise, Spotify went through several iterations before arriving at the model we know today, and they have since continued to experiment to find new methods to better how they perform. Encourage the teams in your organization to do the same!

In Summary

The Spotify model is a good place to start for an organization that focuses on moving rapidly with autonomy and utilizing a people-driven approach. However, it is very unlikely that simply duplicating the Spotify model will work for you.

Moreover, this article on agile teams using the Spotify model as a case study has given you a better understanding of what this model comprises, how it may benefit your organization, some challenges to consider, and the best way to adopt it.