The Benefits of Self-Organizing Teams

Teamwork is a hot topic these days. Managers are always searching for ways to improve teamwork and function for better productivity and better cohesiveness. After all, a strong team not only gets more done but has less turnover. 

Is your team leaning Lean or adjusting to Agile? We’re not here to argue for one or the other (or explain the difference), but we do believe in the power of Agil’s self-organized teams in some work settings — including ours! The problem is, the definition of a “self-organizing team” varies depending on the company.

What is a Self-Organizing Team?

A self-organizing team has some decision-making power. They also take ownership of their work and are continuously working to improve themselves and the process. Many people get hung up on the decision-making power part, leading to the myths that:

  • A manager cannot direct or redirect the team.
  • No one can tell the team what to do.

As The Great ScrumMaster puts it, "The self-organized team is a living organism, and every team member affects how strong or weak this organism will be. Team members who take responsibility and start to be accountable for the self-organized team entity instead of themselves as individuals are one step closer to being part of a great team. The ScrumMaster’s role is to support team rather than individual behavior. He must create such a team from individuals by reminding them that the team is an entity and is more important than individuals. He must always encourage team members to help others, rather than hide behind their own tasks."[1]

There are other terms tossed around, including self-directed teams and self-managed teams, which leads to confusion. One blogger explains it this way:

  • “A self-organizing team is a team where team members get to decide among themselves who does what; the team gets to work on problems and have some power to remove their own blockages. Clearly, there are teams who are more self-organizing than others and teams which have more authority than others.
  • In a self-managing team, there is no active day-to-day management of the team. The team are [sic] effectively left to manage their own work. To my mind, this is a stronger form of self-organizing.
  • A self-directed team is a team which sets its own goals, decides its own objectives and determines its own priorities.”

Some companies attempt to create self-organizing teams and find that the team is not held accountable, or management is still telling everyone what to do. Finding that balance is not easy, and requires the right company culture and employees who are ready to take ownership.

Self-organizing teams are a different working approach than most people are used to. In most environments, transitioning to a self-organized team takes effort and time — and hits a few bumps along the way. However, this move is worth the investment.

The Benefits of Self-Organizing Teams

  1. Speed. Self-organized teams decide how to meet deadlines in a way that works for everyone and can turn around a product much faster.
  2. Agility. Priorities can change. Self-organized teams can quickly shift gears. Values that suddenly take higher priority can be moved up in the queue without interrupting people in the middle of other tasks or leaving questions about what must be done and when.
  3. Quality/customer focus. Self-organized teams are built to focus on what the customer wants or needs, and uses such feedback to improve the product and process. Instead of just “doing what the manager says,” the team is working to make the end goal better for the sake of the buyer/user. 
  4. Less time on team management. Assigning work, checking statuses, verifying that everything is done — all this management takes time. A self-organized team tracks and reports its own progress.
  5. A true team. Many teams have a “main person” or the “go-to guy.” What if that guy quits tomorrow? Self-organized teams understand each other’s roles and tasks far more and rely less on one particular person as “owner” of something. That means it’s easier to handle losing employees, and it takes less time to train new ones. (However, it is a misconception that Agile teams can handle frequent turnover without problems.)
  6. Employee satisfaction. Employees each have a purpose and know what it is. Instead of blindly following orders, team members are invested, choosing how best to accomplish a goal and then moving the project forward together.

What do you think about Agile teams? Contact us so we can put our self-organizing skills to work on your project.

[1] The Great ScrumMaster: #ScrumMasterWay. Addison-Wesley Signature Series (Cohn). Jan 9, 2017 by Zuzana Sochova.