Many Agile practitioners will push forward the concept of self-organized teams as a first step towards an Agile transition. Unfortunately, self-organization is often mis-understood and many become frustrated with the concept. Below are myths taken from real life situations – including the inner workings of our organization.
- Self-organized teams can only work with experienced people. Although more experienced individuals may make it easier to self-organize, they can also make it much more difficult due to their old work habits. Overall, the age of the team members or their actual experience doesn’t impact their ability to self-organize. Self-organization has more to do with the people’s willingness to self-organize and the support they get from their manager than it has with age or experience.
- Self-organized teams don’t need a leader. Wrong, self-organized teams still need a leader to move them through the various stages and toward their end goal. This being said, it doesn’t mean that the leader has to be a manager or a person in authority. Quite the contrary. Emerging leadership is a much better way to achieve self-organization but management needs to be patient because self-organization takes time.
- Self-organized teams don’t need managers. Why not? Managers are a key success factor to support self-organization. Once again, this doesn’t mean that the manager is included in the self-organized team or that the manager will be leading the team. As Jurgen puts it – “Agile managers work the system around the team, not the people in the team”.
- Self-organized teams are for everyone. Not necessarily, some people may not be ready for self organization or they may not be willing. Everybody has the capacity to be part of a self-organized team, it is simply a matter of wanting to be part of such a team because it is demanding and requires people to become responsible and accountable.
- Self-organized teams are easy to implement. Really? If it was easy, why wouldn’t everyone adopt self-organization? The fact is that starting at a young age, we keep being told what to do (brush your teeth, go to bed, pick up your clothes, do your homework, show up at the office at 9am, finish the report for your boss, go on vacation in July, retire at 65, etc.) Wanting to be self-organized and taking control of your life is counter-intuitive and difficult. People in self-organized teams often act as victims of circumstances during the early stages (I can’t do this because the system won’t allow me) and then start to notice the opportunity the freedom of choice brings.
- Self-organized teams quickly increase the team’s performance. No, it won’t. The team’s performance will indeed increase and for the long run but self-organization requires time, energy and much efforts to deliver results. If you are interested in quick-wins with minimal investments (time and/or money), I would suggest the Agile magic pill.
Autonomy or self-organization is a strong contributing factor for motivation and motivated individuals lead to improved performance and better results. Attempting to implement self-organized teams without understanding the risks and the energy required isn’t a good idea.
Since being appointed president of Pyxis Technologies a few weeks ago, I have been wondering what it means to be “the president” of an organization with a non-traditional governance model. Wanting to be successful in my new role, it is important for me to figure out what is expected of me – hence the questions about the meaning and purpose of my job – and as if the universe wanted to ensure I would answer these questions, Raphaël prompted me to describe what the new role meant for me, during a recent visit to our Paris office.
Since our organization heavily relies on autonomy and self-organization, the new role made me feel like a manager within an Agile organization. So here’s what I came up with (so far):
- Leading the growth of the organization: working with team members and the leaders of the various communities in establishing their vision and their objectives and supporting them in achieving the targeted growth by providing an external perspective and/or some experience and skills.
- Raising the performance bar: most people agree with setting goals and my role is to ensure that people set challenging goals for themselves and their community. Achieving a simple goal might be easy but it doesn’t make people grow, it doesn’t take them outside their comfort zone. My role is to get people to step outside their comfort zone.
- Providing the means for people and communities to grow: wanting people to step outside their comfort zone without providing support for them to succeed would not only be unfair and unreasonable, it simply makes no sense.
- Ensuring people operate with integrity and holding them accountable: integrity is a simple concept for me, it means to “say what you do and do what you say”. Consequently, I am taking responsibility (until the community members do so themselves) to hold people accountable for their commitments in order to make sure they operate with integrity. Imagine how powerful an organization can be if people operate with high integrity!
- Making sure each group has defined clear protocols and plays by their rules: I personally don’t feel the need to control what people and communities are doing but I need to make sure each group has defined clear rules so the team members understand what is allowed and what isn’t. There is nothing worst than erratic rules and behaviors for people to be un-successful at what they do.
- Committing to making people successful: it is much easier to get rid of people when they don’t meet certain expectations than it is to work with them at closing the gap. I am not saying that nobody will ever be asked to leave the organization (there are legal reasons why we might want to do so) but in the case of lower-than-expected performance level, I am committing to truly work with people so they can succeed.
- Coaching people: it is the team members and the community leaders who are part of the day-to-day action. As a coach, my role is to maintain enough distance to properly observe the team’s performance in order to ask powerful questions that will enable the team to find alternate ways to reach their objectives faster and more efficiently.
- Adapting my leadership style: people and communities are at different level of maturity and based on the maturity of the group, I will adapt my leadership style to provide the best level of support for their performance.
As I was defining for myself what role I should be playing, I started reading over the week-end Great Business Teams: Cracking the Code for Standout Performance.
Leaders exercise a kind of gravitational pull on their team. Their behavior sets the performance “should be” for others – Great Business Teams: Cracking the Code for Standout Performance.
The books describes the following behaviors which are important for me:
I am pretty sure I will be adding to this list as weeks go by but it seems to be a good start. Needless to say, I am not kidding myself thinking that I will have a perfect score on all these fronts but making my job description public and asking my colleagues to hold me accountable is a challenge I am ready for.
Would you add anything to this list?