Self Organizing Teams – How to Make it Work

Jan 26, 2015 by Matt Dixon

Part of the principles of the Agile Manifesto refer to self-organizing teams, “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.” What does that mean exactly, and how can a self-organizing team become an effective team?

What is a Self-Organizing Team?

The best teams I have had the pleasure to work with all had one thing in common: they were able to see a problem and quickly decide the best way to conquer it. We didn’t wait for direction, wonder what management wanted us to do, or ignore the issue. We saw the issue and acted. Sometimes, there was a need to consult with the business, but that’s what the Product Owner is for.

The business, on the other hand, may not be used to the idea of developers organizing themselves. Managing developers has been referred to as herding cats.

Why is this a good idea?

Development teams want to succeed. Who doesn’t love to win? Allowing teams to self-organize gives them a level of control to succeed. When teams are enabled to control their own destiny, morale goes up, quality increases, and the team can finally fire on all cylinders.

How can this possibly work?

“I run 6 plays, split veer. It's like novocaine. Just give it time, always works.”
Coach Boone – Remember the Titans

No, there is no silver bullet, but if Scrum is followed teams are allowed to face challenges head-on. The team is no longer reactive, but proactive. Instead of waiting for management to see the problem, analyze it, and finally direct the team, the analysis and decision is made closer to the problem. Management performs more of an advisory role in this case. They can do what they do best, provide direction and vision for the product. The development team can do what they do best, write software and solve problems; ultimately deciding how they solve those problems.

The organization is also flattened, and all members of the team are peers rather than a hierarchical organization. Each member of the team can then provide input as a peer allowing the best ideas to come forth.