"Self organisation is a path not a destination"
Self organisation is one of Scrum’s fundamental yet very difficult to achieve team characteristics. Daniel Pink in "Drive" also highlight autonomy as one of the three motivating factors. Self organisation is often misinterpreted as giving complete autonomy to teams or people and getting rid of managers in the organisation. removing hierarchy or slimming down the management layers could be more effective but this is not the focus of this blog. Regardless of the number of managers in the organisation, self organisation requires different managerial skills/styles such as coaching, delegation, revealing and like.
There can be different interpretations and implementation of Self organisation among teams and organisations. My version of Self Organisation based on the literature I read and my own experience is as follows: For self organisation to happen and work you need:
Boundaries: You need boundaries that are clearly defined by the framework you are using. You need to also stick to your organisation’s, departments internal processes and standarts that are designed to protect you from risks. However boundaries can change, relax (or the other way)depending on circumstances, maturity of your organisation/team, market dynamics and like. Boundaries can also have a safety net kind of affect. That said, boundaries:
Should not limit the team to take initiatives and decisionsShould support the team to work on their own or collaborate with other teams with no or minimum bureaucracy
Clear Objectives: If what you are trying to achieve is not well defined , understood by the team and is not measurable, teams will struggle to self-organise.
Motivation: Teams with demotivated individuals are unlikely to self-organise. Management’s job is to create an environment that motivates people. In an environment full of demotivating factors, self organisation will suffer.
Feedback Loops: You need to have in place feedback loops to support self organisation. If teams lack VALUABLE feedback from their stakeholders, some wrong decisions or/and direction can easily be billed to self organisation and it will be replaced by more control measures. Self organisation is a journey that is built on trust and results. It is something that is earned but also something that needs to be supported by management so that it can continuously evolves in time.
Transparency: Lack of transparency will hinder self organisation. So if a team is not able to or doesn’t have the consciousness to make things transparent to make problems, impediments, risks to pop up hence timely decisions can be made, self organisation will be a matter of luck. One of the first things a team or organisation should focus is to create radical transparency to help different things including self-organisation. Both Scrum and Kanban is build on transparency.
I suggest organisations to think carefully about self organisation. Self organisation doesn’t happen by itself and has to be understood and supported before it can be applied effectively. An iterative, less risky approach can be taken to find the right balance.