Enabling the teams to self-organize will inspire them and bring out their talent. Starting up with self-organization can be hard, but these tips will help!
If you work in a managerial position or a team environment, you’ve probably heard the term “self-organizing” team. And this is something that has become a key element in high-performance and empowered teams, and when I first heard about it, the concept made complete sense. However, this is such a high-level term that I didn’t know how to do coaching and empower teams to better “self-organizing”. After a lot of research, experiments, failures, and struggle, here’s a list of ideas I wish I had when I first started it.
Why Self-Organizing Teams?
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”Steve Jobs
To me, this quote helps to understand the concept behind “self-organizing” teams. I have served in organizations where people wait for their orders to come from above and then grumble because they don’t want orders. They’re almost always afraid to throw back because they’re afraid to step on anyone’s toes or just because they think they’ll not be listened to. With the amount of time, effort, and money it takes to employ good people, this is very wasteful.
Companies that have embraced the notion of self-organizing teams know that the people relatively close to the problem will be able to find the best solutions. Either it’s a warehouse, a customer service department, or a battle zone, leaders who are three to four levels away from the frontlines, will not properly understand the complexities of a team’s day-to-day challenges and will deter them from finding the right solutions to such problems.
Even with larger strategic projects that have an impact on the business as a whole, leaders will also need buy-in and input from their staff on the ground to make sure that it has not been forgotten and to do the job to execute the initiative.
Another primary reason for businesses to embrace self-organizing teams is that they might help to address the work stress, multitasking, and micro-management that often wastes many leader’s time and deter them from concentrating on the work that would enable them to get the most impact.
I’ve worked with lots of leaders who, with strong intentions, would leap into the nitty-gritty details of initiatives and would like to help the team whenever they lost or stuck, but that ended up eating a ton of their time. The growth strategies on which they were also working never seemed to move forward. If a leader actively encourages people that are closest to challenges to come up with solutions for themselves and the whole team, they can better look forward and can concentrate more on the more significant initiatives.
Set a Clear Vision and Goals
One of the first things that are needed for teams to begin self-management is vision and targets that can help as a roadmap while they are starting their journey. Any organization or venture that comes into existence is seeking to fix a problem or resolve some particular question. In the traditional management structure, some individuals belong to higher up but positioned to solve and implement the solutions of the issues of lower-level teams. Although leading organizations are gradually turning this paradigm around and empowering their teams to come up with solutions, yet these teams still need direction to take the lead.
In response to these changes, there’s been a transformation to goal-focused outcomes and work classifications. Many businesses are also using strategies such as User Tales, which describe the end purpose and inspiration for a particular category of client or end-user. The User Story style is brief and deliberately left open so that the teams can determine the best way to tackle the question they are faced with.
Irrespective of the structure, the priorities and vision should be straightforward enough so that the team can utilize them to make choices without having to ask anyone higher up every time a problematic choice turns up. The notion of sprint goals is a perfect example of this in action.
In Scrum, when a team begins a new sprint, an objective will be established as to what the aim of the sprint is and what progress will be if that target were to be accomplished. Throughout the sprint, whether a team leader is uncertain about which task to focus on or whether anyone is attempting to put new work into the sprint, they will both return to the sprint target and ask if what they are doing is helping to achieve that goal.
When people first start “self-organize”, one of the hardest fights is to decide how far they’ll go with what they want to do. For example, if unhappy consumer contact with a corporation requesting to return a purchase, will the customer service agent repay the order? Give a replacement? If that is so, does this only extend to a certain sum of money until they have to speak with someone higher up? A further example could be that if a salesperson is almost ready to close a project, but the client wants a discount due to the size of the order, will they do that without an authorization? How big of a price split can they make?
For members of the team to be empowered to resolve issues, they need to have some limitations or restrictions to work with that they’re still lenient enough to be clever. Because if they’ll have to run to their management teams every time an unexpected situation, time will be wasted and everyone will feel frustrated and helpless. Whether its selling targets, the number of product defects, or the training expenditure, leadership can set a spectrum that delivers an ideal situation and a minimum viable state that the team then can merge with the target or challenge outlined and start running.
When members of the team are ready to hop in and try to tackle a problem, it is very easy to get rid of or distracted because there is not a high degree of openness on what the rest of the team is doing. There’s been a lot of projects I’ve been interested in that I tried to help, but it wasn’t clear which things would be good for me to get going, or whether someone else was already working on them. I’d always do my utmost to ask. Still, several times it wasn’t clear who had the answer, or the persons who might explain were inaccessible, so I’d end up waiting and then decide to try again later.
Transparency is also critical from a supervisory perspective. A team working on a tough project or striving to meet a tight deadline will always feel stressed when their manager or leadership team regularly asks for project status and updates. With that, these repetitive questions come from a lack of knowledge. The responses are necessary so that the management team can track the scenario at a more tactical level and be able to modify their strategies or remind key stakeholders about any shifts or risks.
When teams increase their level of transparency, it will help create more confidence that they can manage themselves and encourage leadership to work more in a supportive capacity to get the team all the tools or assistance they need instead of being micro-managers.
To begin by allowing greater transparency, the key is to keep it simple:
- Track progress at a specific place
- Keep a communication channel where anyone can ask questions and see what’s going on.
- Clearly describe a central decision-maker for a project or a task.
In addition to the above, there are a few points to keep in mind that can help to ensure transparency far beyond the team level and across divisions and departments of the organization:
- Ensure teams share their progress daily
- Over-communicate with leadership/stakeholders
- Raise risks as fast as possible
Remove Fear of Failure
One of the main barriers to the team’s successful “self-organize” is the anxiety of failure on a venture or of missing a significant deadline. Once pressure is on, many companies will quickly revert to old ways of operating to step in anytime it feels like a mission is in trouble to start micromanaging. If this occurs, teams will quickly begin to lose motivation and return to waiting for instructions rather than proactive problem-solving. To stop that, companies need to establish an atmosphere where it is okay if a team fails in an experiment. For relatively new teams, maybe allow them to work on an initiative with slightly less exposure or with more flexibility in “when and how” it can be delivered. However, the important thing is to inform the team leaders that they will not be punished for soliciting action.
Ask Lots of Questions
Even when you’re looking to scramble back or let your team own all the work they’re accomplishing, there are still so many tasks involved that it’s very feasible (especially when they’re starting) that something might fall between the cracks. As a good leader and team manager, it’s crucial not to be that far detached or out of hand that you can’t help your team to be aware of any issues that may come up. One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that it doesn’t presume you figure everything out to your team or do everything for them.
The approach that has been working for me is to keep asking questions. When there’s a discussion session that’s going to happen, ask the manager if they’re planning to do it. When there’s a deadline looming, and it doesn’t seem like something is done, inquire how the manager feels about the next deadline. At first, I was reluctant to ask inquiries like this as they seemed obvious or naggy, however, what I swiftly realized was that the team would get deep into their work that such things would slip out of their minds. They will always appreciate the queries to kind of wake them up.
Learning to collaborate in self-organizing teams is already (and continues to be) challenging but a rewarding journey. It can be quite difficult for anybody who has experienced success in their professional or personal life to give up management and trust that others on your team would be able to do things effectively without your guidance. However, if you want to help the employees develop a genuine sense of empowerment and pride in their jobs and truly reach their full potential, it’s something you need to learn and do and practice consistently.
At ZAD Consulting Group we will review your Business Health and as with any organizational needs, we try to improve each part of your team at a time. We will clearly show you how changing one particular issue can improve the whole team and, ultimately, profits and profitability.
Author : Arash Zad