Organizing the Self-Organizing Team

by garyg 18. April 2011 11:33

It would be great if every self-organizing team just jumped right in and did just that, but some do need a little help.  Most new groups will traverse through the standard storming – forming – norming stages, and its mainly during the first two you’ll need to help the most.  The biggest challenge for any of us who have lead traditional teams face in facilitating a self-organizing team learning how to facilitate without dropping into traditional management behaviors.

My first realization to this came one morning at a Daily Scrum when listening to the team members report their status to one another.   It was obvious to everyone in the room that there was an extreme imbalance in the workload and a few members User Stories were falling behind.  They were struggling.  At the end of the Scrum I expected one or more of them to offer assistance to the struggling members.  I was wrong. I don’t know why, but I expected these formally very independent people to suddenly step up and help one another out simply because the rules and principles of Scrum had been laid out for them.  The people hadn't changed because the process did. 

Coming to the rapid conclusion that they just didn’t know how to start helping one another, and fighting the urge to drop into delegating PM mode, I stayed in the facilitating Scrum Master role, bringing up the Burn Down and Capacity charts instead and asked questions.  Very pointed questions on what they thought the numbers meant

Leading the team to correct realization on their own rather than telling them what to do, helped them take the first leap.  It seems like a simple step, but for this group it was the turning point for coming to grips with a key responsibility of a self-organizing team. 

So what specifically can you do to help your Agile team to the “right” conclusions? Here are a few tips I’ve put together from my experiences:

  • Highlight issues by bringing them up for discussion.  Encourage team members to vocalize the solution on their own rather than you pointing it out.
  • Get impediments out of the way.  Make sure you aren't one of them.  Facilitate communications but avoid being a go-between if at all possible.
  • You are not the Admin, do not become one.  Insist that all artifacts be created by the Team.  It encourages ownership and responsibility.
  • When everything is right, it will seem like you do nothing at all.  Once the Team gets some experience and success behind them you should do very little other than truly facilitating .

About the author

Gary Gauvin is a 20+ year Information Technologies industry leader, currently working as the Director of Application Lifecycle Management for CD-Adapco, a leading developer of CFD/CAE solutions. Working in both enterprise environments and small businesses, Gary enjoys bringing ROI to the organizations he works with through strategic management and getting hands-on wherever practical. Among other qualifications, Gary holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Technologies, an MBA, a PMP (Project Management Professional) certification, and PSM (Professional Scrum Master) certification.  Gary has also been recognized as a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional.

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