Agile Self-Organizing Teams

“Knowledge workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy”, leadership guru Peter Drucker states in his Management Challenges for the 21st Century.

So what is a self-organizing team?  In many situations teams will be comprised of a group of people working together but not really dependent on what the others do to complete their individual tasks.  Teams should have four main qualities:
  • Collaborative tasks to fulfill a defined mission. Tying it to the overall vision, mission and strategy.
  • Clear boundaries in terms of information flow and alignment with other organizational teams, resources or decision-making policies. Roles, responsibilities and interfaces must to be defined.
  • Authority to self-manage within these boundaries. Must adhere to the overall organizational governance.
  • Stability over some defined period of time. Possibly defined in a project lifecycle or some other overarching documentation.

In addition to these qualities, five essentials of self-organizing teams are:

  • Competency: Individuals need to be competent for the job at hand. This will result in confidence in their work and will eliminate the need for direction from above.
  • Collaboration: They should work as a team rather than as a group of individuals. Teamwork is encouraged.
  • Motivation: Team motivation is the key to success. Team members should be focused and interested in their work.
  • Trust and respect: Team members trust and respect each other. They believe in collective ownership and are ready to go the extra mile to help each other resolve issues.
  • Continuity: The team should be together for a reasonable duration; changing its composition every now and then doesn't help. Continuity is essential for the team.

 Self-organization is not just about the whole team.  Each team member will need to self-organize and figure out what to do and how to do it. Every day, everyone on the team has to coordinate their self-organization with the rest of the team. This is normally accomplished through daily meetings such as the “Daily Standup”.

These teams are not out there on their own, operating in a bubble or silo. Their efforts must be coordinated with other self-organizing teams. As all teams, self-organizing teams must produce a product or service that creates value for the organization and its customers. They are accountable to make their progress visible, and work within the governance of the organization.

  1. Peter Drucker
  2. Sigi Kalternecker & Peter Hundermark
  3. Nitin Mittal (Infosys)


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