To be able to self-organize and perform optimally, a few basics need to be in place. With the proper foundation, the whole team can organize themselves and perform better.
The most fundamental requirement for a team to be able to self-organize is a clear direction. Only if everyone within the team knows exactly what the overall goals are can they make the right trade-off decisions. Typically, the managers know much more about the strategy of the company and the current goals than any team member. In a command and control pattern this is assumed to be OK as all decisions are made by the manager. But, in a self-organized team, the team members are supposed to take decisions themselves. They can only make good decisions if they know enough about the current goals as well as the underlying strategy. Management has to make sure that the team is in the know. This requires trust and openness, two things which do not come easily to some managers.
The second success factor for self-organized teams is visual management. If every individual team member is supposed to take good decisions all the time, they need to know more than just the goals and strategy. They need to know the current situation as well. Setup lots of visual controls for the current status: task boards, build indicators, performance graphs, … everything possible. It’s a must that everyone can always see the real-time status.
You need a team of individuals who care. That’s very simple. If your people don’t care about their work, you’re in trouble anyways. But, if you let these same people take over critical decision making, your troubles will multiply. If you give control to your team, they need to be able and willing to take up ownership. Initially, this is pretty hard; almost all problems seem to be out of the team’s hands and they raise them as impediments. But, over time, they learn to take ownership for more and more of these problems. This speeds things up dramatically and makes the team even more successful.
Moving from micro-managed to self-organizing teams will lead to both higher motivation and performance. In order to succeed, you must set a clear direction, make the current status visible, and build ownership directly into your team.
What are your experiences in making teams self-organized? Let us know in the comments below!