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Managed Chaos
Naresh Jain's Random Thoughts on Software Development and Adventure Sports
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Finding it difficult to get your teams to Self-Organize?

Existing literature on Agile seems to suggest that a team is self-organized when

  • The team is cross-functional and is self-contained (has all the roles required to perform the team’s activities)
  • The Pigs (team members who do the actual work) estimate and commit to work, rather than the Project Manager or lead developer.
  • Team members pick the task they want to work on from the story board without, someone having to assign them a task.
  • The team is able to take decisions themselves and accordingly adapt to changing situations. Decision making process is distributed amongst the team members instead of one central decision making authority.
  • Team self-organizes based on its strengths and weaknesses instead of job titles to do the work at hand. If the testers are overwhelmed, developers may have to help testers
  • Team members communicate more often and spread knowledge around much better and make decisions together

And so on….

While I truly believe in the importance of self-organization and how the above list ensures that teams are self-organized. I see a lot of teams struggle being truly self-organized and reap its benefits. Agile methods like Scrum and XP have been around for over a decade and they have many practices to help team self-organize. Still teams find it difficult.

What is missing? Why cannot teams easily self-organize?

  • Some people suggest that you really need a mature team for this to work.
  • Some people suggest “Self-organization rarely happens on its own” and hence teams need a good coach or Scrum Master to ensure they can actually self-organize.

Based on my personal experience, there is a key ingredient missing. If you want your team to self-organize give them the ownership. Without having a sense of collective ownership on the project or product, it is very difficult to achieve self-organization.When each member of your team feels like they own the product, there is a big shift in attitude. They collaborate more tightly and try different things to make it work.

Rights and Responsibilities go hand-in-hand. While you want the team to be responsible, you also have to give them rights (ownership).

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