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March 15, 2023

The Three Team Interaction Modes

By IT Revolution

In many large organizations, and even in some small ones, poorly defined team interactions and responsibilities create friction and ineffectiveness.

Perhaps a team was told to be autonomous and self-organizing, but team members have to interact with many other teams to actually get their work done. Another team may be responsible for an API or service but don’t really have the experience to deliver it effectively.

This is all a source of frustration and slows your organization’s ability to deliver value.

To smooth the path of work and value between teams, it is essential to craft and design effective interaction. This can be achieved through three essential team interaction modes, as explained in Team Topologies: Organizing Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais.

By taking into account team-first dynamics and Conway’s Law, Skelton and Pais lay our the following three team interaction modes:

  • Collaboration: working closely together with another team
  • X-as-a-Service: Consuming or providing something with minimal collaboration
  • Facilitating: helping (or being helped by) another team to clear impediments

These three modes should be used in combination across the organization and be used in conjunction with the four team types (as presented in the book and in this earlier post). One team may use two different interaction modes with different teams. It all depends on the specific needs.

Let’s look at these three interaction modes in more detail.


The collaboration interaction mode is best used where a high degree of adaptability or discoverability is needed between two teams.

This is particularly useful when teams are exploring new technologies or techniques. Collaboration enables rapid discovery of new things because it avoids costly hand-offs. However, everything comes with both advantages and disadvantages.

In this case, collaboration can slow things down by creating wide, shared responsibility for each team, with increased context and higher cognitive load. Value delivery is likely slowed during periods of high collaboration. To help reduce this, teams should not interact using collaboration with more than one team at a time.


In the X-as-a-Service interaction mode, there is usually a need for one or more teams to use a code library, component, API, or platform that “just works” without much effort. In other words, the team is consuming a service from another team.

This mode is particularly useful during later phases of systems development and during periods where predictable delivery is needed rather than discovery of new approaches. There should be minimal collaboration between the teams, as they are consuming the product as a service.

Obviously, this interaction mode can increase speed of delivery. Team A needs something in order to delivery their value, and Team B has provided it as an easily consumable service. There are no lengthy conversations, meetings, or set up needed.


The facilitating interaction mode is best suited in situation where one team needs help from another. This help is usually provided in the form of coaching. This is the main interaction mode for enabling teams (see the four team types).

The goal of this interaction mode is for one team (the enabling team) to enable the other team to be more effective, to learn more quickly, to understand a new technology better, or to discover and remove impediments to the delivery of value.

Teams working with the facilitating mode typically work across many other teams. They detect and reduce cross-team problems. They help inform the direction and capabilities of things like APIs, code libraries, and platforms.

It’s important to note that a team working in the facilitating mode does not take part in building or supporting systems of platforms but focuses on the quality of interactions between other teams that are building and running systems.


Effective modern organizations build and run software because of clear interaction modes between teams. The three core team interaction modes presented in this post only scratch the surface of how to organize teams for fast flow. Check out more details in the Team Topologies book.

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IT Revolution

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1 Comment

  • Anonymous Mar 17, 2023 5:45 pm

    I think this model of interaction style is super valuable. It helps us to understand the cognitive load that teams take on in the delivery of value (from one team to another). We can reason about the amount of effort or energy that teams will need to consume when we place close attention to these interaction styles. This can add clarity to how we organize work and helps us to focus on delivery in the value stream. Very powerful!

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