Self-Organizing Team or Self-Destructive Team?

Agile teams must be self-organizing. You hear it all the time. Self-organizing. What does that mean?

If you’re a paranoid manager, it means that the team plans to run wild and do whatever they want, however they want. That’s not self-organized, it’s anarchy.

If you’re a crazed product stakeholder, it means the team is going to build it their way. You’ll be lucky if anyone pays any attention to you. That’s not self-organized either, it’s bankruptcy court.

If you’re an insecure team member, it means you will not receive any direction. You’ll be on your own and will take the blame for everything that goes wrong. Nope, not self-organized. Self-destructive.

Teams can self-organize when given clear goals and guidelines. This takes leadership not management. If you want your team to self-organize, try answering the following questions about them:

  • Is the team respectful and trusting of one another?
  • Do they exhibit internal leadership?
  • Do they actively seek feedback internally and externally using it to self-correct?
  • Are they focused on team goals not person achievements?
  • Does the team have the skills they need to be successful?

Now try answering the following questions about the organization:

  • Do rules exist for building, testing and releasing software?
  • Are the business stakeholders actively engaged in the project?
  • Is management willing to “hold on loosely” and give the team some running room?

Being self-organized is not easy. It requires a strong team and a good support structure around them. Many companies lack that support structure. Does yours?

Updated: February 22, 2011 — 10:29 pm