August 21, 2018

Is Your Team Self-Organizing?

  —A test for self-organization.

In Self-Organizing Teams for the Rest of Us (Another Look), I discuss why I prefer the definition of self-directed team over self-organizing team. A self-directed team embodies my notion of a good team much better because its more concrete.

Is your team self organized? explores the question of self-organization from the team’s perspective. It proposes

If you really want to test if your team is self-organized, simply remove the Scrum Master from the team and you will see what their level is.

I’m not sure I like this proposal. It may not even be the correct question to ask.

If you view a team as a complex adaptive system, then changing the behaviour of this system requires changing one of the conversation, responsibilities or people. This proposal changes all three. That seems problematic in terms of an experiment. Can this be done differently and with better effect?

Let’s ignore changing people. I’ve discussed what I like in a Scrum Master:

A good team dynamic is too important to risk a change to the Scrum Master.

I prefer changing the conversation or responsibilities. Neither of which involves the removal of the Scrum Master.

If you change responsibilties, even subtly, your team will pick up those responsibilities if they deem them important to continue. This is a key characteristic of self-organization: let people figure out what they need to do to accomplish the job. That’s a better result for the entire organization.

So, is your team self-organizing? I’ll posit that whether your team is self-organzing or not is irrelevant.

The fact is that your team is at the level of self-organization that it’s at. Accept this. Move on. Seek ways to improve their level of self-organization but don’t get hung up on it. Effective teams don’t need to be self-organizing and they self-organize at different levels.

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