Self-Organised Teams

Self-Organised Teams

When we talk with organisations about self-organised teams, the first question we normally encounter is "What means self-organised team members?". Before to answer this question, we need to understand the evolution of motivation at work in the last century or so.

Let's start with the quote “Knowledge workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy” - from Peter Drucker in his book 'Management Challenges for the 21st Century'. This reasonings with the Agile idea that “self-organising teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team”. The second question is "What are teams?". In line with team expert J. Richard Hackman we see that this is often far from being clear. Teams consist on groups of people working in proximity to one another but not depending on what the others do to complete their respective jobs, real teams have four features:

  • First, joint tasks to fulfil a compelling mission.
  • Second, clear boundaries in terms of information flow, alignment with otherorganisational units, resources or decision-making policies.
  • Third, authority to self-manage within these boundaries.
  • Fourth, stability over some reasonable period of time.

In deciding the extent of a team’s authority, one must mindfully consider who is in the best position to handle each of four functions that must be fulfilled by any organisational unit:

  • Setting directions for the team, i.e. specifying the organisational objectives, the core purpose or mission that spawn the myriad of smaller tasks.
  • Designing the performing unit and arrange for needed organisational support for the work i.e. structuring tasks, deciding who will be involved in performing them, establishing norms of conduct for work behaviour, and making sure teams members have the resources and assistance they need to carry out their work.
  • Monitoring and managing the work process, i.e. collecting and interpreting data about how the work is proceeding and initiating corrective action as needed;
  • Executing the work, i.e. applying physical or mental energy to accomplish tasks. 

Self-organised teams can be categorised in different levels, the more of the four functions described above are handled by the team the higher its level of self-organisation.

In the 21st Century the manager is becoming a leader for the teams. She acts as a coach for the whole organisation. Mentoring and enabling team members and the teams as a whole is one the the main responsibilities. Understand the system as a whole and apply Lean Thinking to optimise the interaction between teams across the organisation and making sure there is a continuous improvements and economic view models to optimise the flow are applied is another big responsibility. Providing the right visibility and transparency and truth the teams take their own decisions is critical to have a Engineering Culture based in self-organised teams.

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