On Being Self-Organized

On Being Self-Organized

Enabling, Nurturing and Protecting Self-Organizing Teams

About the Book

Self-Organizing Teams have developed a lot of airtime in recent years, having been mentioned explicitly in the Agile Manifesto.  The problem is that there is little in the way of guidance on how these teams work and how they need to be enabled, nurtured and protected.  There is no “manual for Self-organizing teams” that explains how it works.  So team leaders and managers in many organizations decide to just jump in without guidance and try to figure it out by themselves.  I mean, how hard can it be. 

The truth is that creating a great team is hard enough as any manager should already know.  But the concept of self-organizing teams doesn’t make this process any easier.  Trying to enable or participate in a “self-organizing” team can be difficult and extremely subtle in what works and what doesn’t. It can be personally confronting on many levels, and requires a level of tolerance, agility, commitment and discipline that is far away higher than most ordinary teams.

I would have thought that it was both fundamental and obvious that you cannot manage a “self-organizing team” into existence.  You can create the environment and structure, but then it is by definition up to the team members to manage themselves, with suitable guidance and support from the organization.

But often the first thing that happens is a team’s manager call a meeting and announce “congratulations, you guys are now a self-organizing team!”. The second sentence can be one of:

1) “Now, here’s what I want you to do”

2) “Now, off you go and self-organize yourselves for the next sprint”

Or similar statement.

Either of these two sentences from a manager can be dis-enabling.  The first immediately undermines the announcement of the first sentence, by continuing directive behavior.  The second sentence (unless closely followed by subtle influence and support) basically puts the onus back on the team, but without letting them know anything about what just happened. The obvious questions arise but are unanswered:

•         “what are our boundaries?”

•         “What can and can’t we decide as a team?”

•         “Who do we turn to for problems?”

•         “What resources are available to help us make this transition?”

That self-organizing teams fail to start or gel is unsurprising.  And this just creates an excuse for managers to step in and say “this isn’t working” and go back to past practice.

This book aims to provide guidance in how this works, for both managers and leaders who must still participate in this process, as well as the participants, the team members and the managers who are all now part of this team structure.  There are answers to the obvious questions, or at least ways of defining and agreeing on the answers.


About the Author

Adam Russell
Adam Russell

Adam Russell is a highly experienced digital delivery professional with a deep understanding of the management of software development and systems integration projects.

He builds on 40 years’ experience in the software development industry, starting as a developer and then moving into the realms of technical support, and finally project management.  Adam has worked for some of the largest companies in Australia, such as News Corp, IAG, Telstra and BHP. He has also worked for global vendors such as Hewlett-Packard, Wang Labs and Wipro.

Adam's experience in startups and working with smaller software companies has instilled the delight of nimble and agile approaches to delivering customer value.  At the same time Adam’s extensive enterprise experience has developed his deep understanding and strong capability in effective IT Governance.  Adam aims to implement governance with a combination of both discipline and agility: strong and disciplined controls where needed, but with agile independence and flexibility that focuses on customer value developing the products.

Whilst at Telstra, Adam managed the PMO for the largest internal software development team, which included up to 700 personnel at its peak size, of which 70 worked in the PMO, covering Project Management, Release Management and Test Management functions, as well as a finance and administration function.  The Program of work for this team varied but was up to $500m per annum of capital expenditure at its peak.

Adam’s strength is to bring together people from all areas of the company at all levels to work on value delivery via software or digital components.  Adam loves to solve complex problems in highly dynamic and often chaotic digital environments, and thrives on building digital products and bringing them to market. 

Adam does this by keeping focus on the outcomes that need to be delivered and by bringing people on the journey.  Although experienced in most traditional plan-based (Waterfall) and Agile methodologies, Adam doesn’t use any particular, preferring to assess each problem on a case-by-case basis and selecting the minimal toolset that is necessary to support each project.

Adam has designed and written many PMO processes and rolled these out to his staff as well as personnel in other teams and companies. 

Adam’s complete work experience, publications and other information can be found on LinkedIn, at the url: https://au.linkedin.com/in/adamr99 

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