What Are Chapters in an Agile Operating Model?

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What Are Chapters in an Agile Operating Model?
Understand what Chapters are within new ways of working, and who the people are that sit within these Chapters.

The Spotify Model? Tribes? Chapters? Squads? – What’s it all mean?   

It’s been six years now since Henrik Kniberg shared the Spotify Model on his blog.   

It was a vision for how Spotify would implement their operating model moving forward, as a work in progress.  Not intended to be set in stone – but a new model that could be adapted with time and experience.

At its heart was the idea of a different type of team structure that differed from established organisations.  That is – a new way people fitted into a business by a new framework.   Importantly, that framework may change from business to business, depending on their needs, weaknesses, products and consumers.  

The Spotify model isn’t only about team structures, but also about agile delivery – experimental culture, frequent releases, etc.

In his excellent article on the Spotify model, Curtis Stainier says, “The shared model was not perfect and each organisation should adapt it as necessary. However, it does provide an excellent blueprint on being a truly agile company.”

For this article we are focusing only on team structure, and specifically what a Chapter is and where does it fit into an agile framework

Chapters are being used successfully to allow old, entrenched organisations reframe how they operate internally, and more specifically accelerate excellence within the business, and ultimately deliver a better product for the customer.

Let’s assume you know a little bit about Agile and the concepts. 

If not, at this link is a quick outline and case studies of how ADAPTOVATE approach the  Agile Operating Model.    To discover more about Agile, we have a variety of articles to help fill in the picture.


The core of developing a new operating model, is to restructure teams into cross-functional teams aligned to an agreed objective and key resultNote, this is done only after all the preliminary work is done to understand the current landscape.

What does a cross-functional team mean?

A team with different specialised capabilities designed to work collectively to deliver autonomously an output that serves a customer’s need.  These teams are often called Squads.   (We’ll call them Squads.)

In a business you would typically have many Squads that form part of a Tribe.   That Tribe would have a distinct mission within the business.  (Large organisations can have many Tribes.)

So, if the Squads have people with specialised capabilities, how do those individuals amp up their own specialised skill in order to bring the best version of themselves to the Squad?  Well here is your answer.   That person also belongs to a Chapter.

A marketing team at a financial institution

Mina Gurgis, a project lead with us, gives this example, “In an operating model for a marketing team in a financial institution, UX designers formed a Chapter – their home team. Although each UX designer is working in a different team, they need to get together (as part of their home team) on a regular basis to ensure consistency in UX design across all the work they do.

This ensures customers’ experience is the same regardless of what product/service they are engaging with. Also, the UX designers were able to upskill each other with the guidance of a Chapter Lead in the latest tools and processes available to make their work more efficient and also grow in their professional career,” Mina explains.


“Chapters are the essential glue that keeps organisations working!”, says Steve Walton, our principal in Melbourne.

In New Ways of Working, you hang out, share, learn, socialise, and develop your specific capability by also belonging to your specific capability Chapter.  

By everyone developing the same skills and capabilities it ensures that when you return to your respective Squads, you are bringing the same capability excellence to your Squad.  Singing from the same songbook so to speak.  Which means there is an alignment across the Squads and Tribes on how things are executed.  Be it tech, finance, marketing, etc.

Sean Woon, Managing Director at ADAPTOVATE explains it like this, “Chapters are a family of specialists (e.g. JAVA developers) who as individuals work within Squads and Tribes across the organisation. They belong in their respective Chapter to help them share knowledge with their “technical peers” to continuously improve their “craft”.

“Your Chapter determines the way you’ll work on the problems within the Squads you work in, for consistency across the team,” adds Caitilin Studdert, our principal in Sydney.

As all great myths and analogies eventually lead to Star Wars, here is a visual explaining a “robot” Chapter in the Jedi’s Tribe. While there are certain Squads all made up of different capabilities, in an Agile Star Wars universe all the robots would gather together once in a while to look at how they can improve their robot skills to bring back to their Squad.

Robots form a Chapter, as do the ‘wise ones’

Using sports teams is a great analogy

Within ADAPTOVATE (depending on who is doing the consulting) we will also often defer to a good old sports analogy.  Sometimes it’s Netball, sometimes Football, but obviously it’s always a team sport that does the trick.   Here is a great example from Mina Gurgis, project lead (and our resident Football nut).

Soccer Teams and Chapters

In a soccer team, we see goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, and attackers. This cross-functional team (i.e. Squad) works together to achieve a common goal i.e. win the match. People with the same skillsets (e.g defenders) are called Chapters in Agile ways of working.

Chapters have deep skillsets in certain areas and work together to enhance those functional skillsets but still need to work with other people from different chapters to achieve the overall goal.

In soccer, for example, attackers have skillsets in scoring goals, defenders and goalkeepers have skillsets to stop the opposing team from doing so. During training sessions, the chapters train together separately to hone their skills, e.g. goalkeepers might train specifically on saving a penalty kick while midfielders train on dribbling skills and improving their speed.

The soccer team also trains together collectively to improve their teaming and figure out how to align to win a match. Each chapter member is expected to be an expert in his/her area and also work well with other members from different chapters.

That’s not to say that one chapter member can’t do the work of others (e.g. attacker can take the role of the defender), but they’re not expected to fulfil the duties as effectively.

In fact, it’s always encouraged that every team member has a “T” shaped skillset – deep knowledge in his/her Chapter area, and less deep but wider knowledge in other areas.

It’s no different in a workplace, where each of us comes from a different background and work in a different area (e.g. HR, Finance, IT) yet we need to get together to solve problems effectively for our organisation.

Balance is key

One of the challenges with Chapters is simply finding the time to meet and dedicating ‘Chapter time’.   In an example below we used the 80/20 rule of Monday to Thursday.

Mina provides this advice, “Bring this up during the planning meetings with the Squad and take on as much work as possible with a buffer for Chapter time (i.e. personal development). This is also an opportunity to have a good discussion between the Chapter Leads and Product Owners on how to balance the delivery of business outcomes and the upskilling of people who deliver that work.”

(For the sake of this article, a simple description of the Product Owner is the role that owns the purpose, vision, and outcomes of the Squad.  The PO sets the direction through prioritisation of work.)

Sean says, “I have seen it work well in an organisation where the Chapter Leads demonstrate clear goals to continuously improve their Chapter members’ skills and therefore drive engagement and participation by Chapter members.

It has therefore not worked so well where the Chapter contributions are slow; largely caused by not having a strong sense of purpose and direction as a Chapter, and with their attention and time only spent on delivery for their respective Squads/Tribes.”

Returning Home

The team you are in is the Squad.  That is the team that will deliver the work.  You will spend the most amount of your working hours working within that Squad  – Let us call it Monday to Thursday.

Then on Friday – you return “home” to your Chapter.   To your people.  That’s where you learn the better skills, share problems, and find consistent improvements for your specialised capability.   

Then you take your new improved skills back to your Squad, knowing that your colleagues in your chapter are taking their consistent capability back to their respective Squads.

The Chapter Lead

Chapter leads are responsible for the growth and uplift of their team,” says Benny Ko, one of our senior consultants.

When most organisations start to consider introducing Agile ways of working, they tend to focus on teams. To get teams up and running in an Agile way, energy is expended making sure the roles of Product Owner and Scrum Master are in place and supported.

Steve explains, “There is talk of empowerment and teams self-managing, however, how to achieve that often feels elusive. Chapter Leads fill the missing role to guide people on how to get the work done in a consistently high-quality manner. This role sets guidelines, provides best practice examples and guides the professional capability development of the people within the teams.”

Chapter Leads face significant challenges as the role is not widely understood and may result in conflict and lack of clear accountability.

Chapter Leads must understand their role.   Ted Tomoyasu, a consultant in LA told us, “In many organisations the old department manager becomes the new Chapter Lead. This is both the opportunity and risk with Chapters. At a large Aerospace company, I had a Chapter Lead who would not give up the old line manager role and continued to try to direct the work of the Squad members; which took away the empowerment and accountability from the Squad.”

Reporting lines and the performance management framework.

While at ‘home’ in your Chapter – you may want to ask for a holiday, or a work review.  If you are new to New Ways of Working – this is where you would have normally asked your manager for that pay rise.  In Chapters, you ask your Chapter Lead.  That is the person that is leading the charge within your capability chapter.  Your new ‘manager’.

Chapter Leads are also part of Squads.

Sean elaborates on a key challenge with reporting lines, “One of the greatest challenges with chapters is reporting lines. Clear roles and responsibilities in who are the people managers of chapter members. Related therefore is the performance management framework. Do chapter members get evaluated by Chapter Leads or their POs and Tribe Leads during performance review time?”

It’s important as an organisation when setting up your new framework with your staff, that you work together to establish those rules of engagement.   Most employees are focused not only on doing a good job, but ‘Who is my boss?’,  ‘Who will judge my performance?’ and ‘Who makes the decision on a promotion?’ 

By ensuring the Chapter Lead and the Product Owner are in strong communication, these early challenges will dissipate.

Take your time.

ADAPTOVATE have worked extensively with large companies in most industries, be it financial, health, retail or government, on helping establish an Agile Operating Model.   It takes time.  Weeks, months.   To be done thoroughly and correctly for sustained success, we work with the stakeholder to ensure they are given every chance of changing behaviour.  

Setting up Chapters is just one part of the larger framework, however it’s an exciting one as people start to see changes quite quickly with better quality output and faster timelines.  The company sees lower costs.   It’s a win win.

We look forward to discussing the next steps for your organisation now.   Reach out to find out how we can work with you.

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