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Agile Principle Part 11: Self-Organizing Teams

by Ken Rickard

Dec 11, 2017

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams

If my favorite principle involves motivated people, then self-organizing teams naturally is my second favorite. We're all adults... Do we really need someone telling us how to work? If you're self-motivated and engaged, then self-organization is an empowering activity. If not, then yes you might need someone to help show you the way.

Let's break this principle down...

Self-organizing Teams - Building teams and making them highly productive has been the focus of scholarly minds for years. Google has spent a lot of time and money studying people and their behaviors, trying to unlock what makes great teams tick. My personal belief is that a foundation of these virtues below lend themselves best for a team to achieve uncommon things.

  • Humility - a modest or low view of one's own importance; humbleness
  • Empathy - the ability to understand and share the feelings of another
  • Gratitude - the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness
  • Honesty - the quality of being honest
  • Respect - a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements
  • Openness - lack of secrecy or concealment; frankness

This is not an exhaustive list, nor is this list proven by any scientific backing. These are just the virtues I believe set the stage for people to mentally get to the next level of trust. You can't build great teams without first trusting each other.

Think about a person you trust. Someone you would want to have the ball on the last play of the game, or someone you would share a personal story with. What is it about these people that makes us trust them? I suspect there is a mixture of things, but I bet there is some truth to those people's ability to resemble these virtues.

The company culture you live in currently dictates some of your behaviors. If the company culture appreciates virtues like the ones above, then they will more often seek out self-organization and autonomy for their workforce. People will naturally treat each other with respect because they will feel their success is at the team/company level, not the individual level.

Alternatively, a virtue poor culture might resemble these virtues below.

  • Pride - the quality of having an excessively high opinion of oneself or one's importance
  • Apathy - lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern
  • Self-absorption - preoccupation with one's own emotions, interests, or situation
  • Deceit - the action or practice of deceiving someone by concealing or misrepresenting the truth
  • Disrespect - show a lack of respect for; insult
  • Disagreement - lack of consensus or approval

Self-organization and autonomy does not live in these cultures. In these cultures, everyone is out for themselves. Good employees regularly leave these cultures for greener pastures.

My advice... Become the culture you desire. Your actions should include the good virtues from above, or ones like them every day. When you step outside those ideal virtues, stop and realize it, apologize to anyone you may have impacted and reflect on your thoughts and behavior at the end of every day. Retaining your brain to operate in a way to support not only individual self-organization, but also collective team self-organization within the company goes a long way towards trust, employee retention, innovation, happiness, and success at all levels in a company.

This 12 part series was published by Ken Rickard on LinkedIn Pulse, to read the original version of this blog click hereTo read the entire 12 part series, click here for a table of contents. 

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