When I last posted something, before life changed significantly for all of us, I was coming to terms with the so-called Imposter Syndrome, but 5 months on from the inception of my Agile Coaching role, I’m pleased to say I’ve moved beyond that. The engineering community and other partners I work with are awesome and continue, for some reason, to trust me and, more importantly, listen to my ideas and put them into action. This still applies in the age of virtual ‘reality,’ but I have to admit it takes a lot more effort.
So, for this installment, I’d like to explore with you something personally important to me and that’s self-organising teams. Now more than ever I believe this is a topic that is fundamental to the success of creating value for our customers. If you cast your mind to the 11th Agile principle for a moment:
“The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organising teams.”
As a coach in pure coaching mode, I would expect the coachee(s) to self-discover and gain clarity around a troublesome issue or problem. As a mentor, I’d like to think that my experience provides that Scrum team with some new ideas and practical advice that can be enacted and as a trainer, I can imagine my audience going away and start to try new things out (annoying other teammates in the process with their newfound enthusiasm). In each case, I’m expecting teams and individuals to go and self-organise around those ideas and insights and start to implement great products and services. Of course, I ensure I check in regularly, but I strongly believe in trusting and empowering people to carry out their activities with as much autonomy as required.
So why is it then that this doesn’t always play out as expected? Why do teams not just disperse, go and talk confidently to Product Owners and users, or naturally schedule an elaboration session to ensure the next Sprint accelerates quickly? We’ve probably all been in this position at some stage in our careers and yet we desperately want to create this type of culture in our workplace because it truly feels a healthier way of working.
I recently read an interesting blog on the Corporate Rebels website by Jon Barnes (no, not that one) ‘You’re behaving like a child: How we were never taught to self-organise.’ There’s too much to do it justice without repeating a lot of it but his epiphany comes when he realises that we were never taught how to do this whole self-organising thing when we were children and as a result, we struggle to do it naturally when we get to the workplace as an adult. He talks about an alternative school in Costa Rica, where children are allowed to think for themselves under the guidance of supportive teaching. Not everyone’s cup of tea but it teaches an important lesson (haha!)
So, what can we do about it? What can we do to get better at it and provide the right environment for these individuals and teams to flourish?
Apart from broadly changing school curriculums country-wide, personally I think it starts from a trusting leadership culture. It’s about establishing those ‘starting-boundaries’ in which to play, search, and explore, and then letting boundaries being pushed out over time. It’s about embracing failure, especially where that leads to learning and creating a culture that doesn’t see failure as a negative. Teams and individuals shouldn’t have to always ask for permission. It’s ultimately about guidance and not management. As a coach, I see it as my mission to create an environment in which the above behaviours can flourish. I’m using this new era as an opportunity to show leaders how this creates better teams and to highlight how command and control structures even more so now don’t have a place in complex and uncertain circumstances.
I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on this topic.