The Self Organized Team

"Let's change the way we work ..." The message seems to find its way through organizations every so often, bread to please the masses, is usually the true intention. What follows might be a few cheers here and there, some name / title changes, but in the end the organizational engine hasn't been changed or upgraded, it has merely be revved up a little. The standard engine idle soon resumes.
So what needs to be done to change the engine or at least maintain a state of "high revs"? How about some actual changes, changes by the people for the people:) ?
How do you get your employees to develop an interest and passion for the systems they create? The answer may be simpler than most would care to admit… Hand over control to those who create the system. Handing over control of a system to a bunch of eager developers may scare the most seasoned business manager but the results I have found lead to … so far, only positive things.

Accountability

Accountability is established almost immediately. Since all decisions are made by those creating the change, accountability inherently falls on the shoulders of these individuals, all the individuals, and not on the shoulders of a single manager as is commonly the case. Having a single point of blame places others in the team at a distance form any chaos that may arise.

Motivation

Control introduces Motivation. Most people know what it is that motivates them, that thing that gets them out of bed every morning. Often money is the direct motivator but its is also almost never the only motivator. As a software developer it is often the challenge of creating something new and useful that get me going and having control over how I introduce that into my workload is an easy way to inject motivation. For example, after being given control of our own processes we found adding an entire “Innovation week” every second week allowed us to inject motivation. The innovation week has a single rule: Allow developers to explore any NEW technology, process, framework etc. that will improve the system. The key here being “NEW”. This forces developers to think outside the box, pick up a new skill and have a bit of official fun (fun for us geeky developers :) ) . The innovation week helps rejuvenate the mind and get us ready for the following business week.

There are of course challenges with moving control from managers to the team . For example, who has the final say should a difference of opinion arise? A simple answer, assign a lead at the start of each iteration (yes we practice a form of agile) the lead is appointed by his peers and the lead will have the final say should conflict arise.

Inviting change is always difficult, it introduces feelings of uncertainty and anxiety however trying to motivate employees by pretending to change the status quo by renaming a few old processes will often do the opposite. The idea of self managed teams is by no means a new concept, almost 50% of fortune 1000 companies reported using such teams.
Empowerment is key, a company with agile adaptive teams will inherently position itself as an adaptive organisation.

My favourite example of such an organisation is Semco. An organisation radically changed by it's CEO Ricardo Semler. Follow the link below for a summary of Ricardo's book: Mavrick!
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