Secret Recipe for Building Self-Organizing Teams

Guest post by Venkatesh Krishnamurthy, Advisor and Curator, Cutter, Techwell, Zephyr

Some time back I noticed something odd with an agile team. Team temperature used to be 10 out of 10, and each team member expressed their happiness working on this project.  I was curious to find the secret behind an “always happy team.” A bit of interaction with the team and the ScrumMaster revealed some disturbing secrets.  Here are the key ones:

  1. The team is self-organizing, and individuals can pick the story of their choice and deliver at their discretion!!
  2. Team has neither time pressure nor delivery timelines

I thought to myself that this is not a self-organizing team, but a directionless team.

As Esther Derby points out, there are several myths and misconceptions about Self-Organizing teams.  I did cover a bit about these myths during my talk at Lean Agile Systems Thinking conference(LAST) in Melbourne, which is available on Youtube (toward the end at 1:03 minutes).

I understand it is not easy to build a self-organizing team, but there are principles enabling leaders in building such agile teams.

One of the best analogies that I have heard so far about self-organizing teams is from Joseph Pelrine.  As Joseph puts it, building self-organizing teams is like preparing soup.  I thought it would be easier for readers to understand the self-organizing concept if I map the soup preparation steps to the self-organizing steps. Yes, soup preparation involves many more steps, but the key ones below would give the clues to readers for further analysis.

The below table illustrates the mapping:

venkatesh-image1

 

To conclude,

  • A self-organizing team needs a leader, the right amount of pressure apart from the right set of constraints/goals to succeed.
  • The true test of the self-organizing team is their collaboration ability during war time and not during peace time.
  • There is a difference between a team organizing themselves and a self-organizing team.  Don’t ignore the “self” part.
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