Self-organisation Is Not Boundaryless!

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One of the key principles of agile software development is that agile teams must be empowered.

In Scrum, an agile management methodology, this is known as ‘self-organisation’, or ‘self-organising teams’.

The concept is that the team is given full responsibility for delivery and the management role on the team, known as ‘ScrumMaster’, is a facilitator role.

The ScrumMaster is responsible for orchestrating and enforcing the process (i.e. Scrum), and removing any impediments that hinder the team’s progress.

For some, this is management. For others, management means telling people what to do and how to do it.

In reality, I think all teams benefit from this kind of light management style. It’s empowering for team members. And, in my experience, empowered teams are more motivated and deliver better results. However – empowered teams can also take the ‘wrong’ direction. And to avoid this, a manager must coach and guide, and on occasions enforce a particular direction.

Self-organising teams are likely to have a much narrower view than their managers, who have broad exposure to all sorts of operational and organisational issues. They may also take a route that is contrary to important company policies. They may unknowingly take a route that has legal implications. They may take a route that suits the team and their current project, but is completely contradictory to some wider or longer term organisational goals.

So, whilst I believe strongly in servant leadership – believing that managers need to turn their thinking upside-down – self-organisation is not boundaryless!

What’s called for, is a fine balance between empowerment and direction. What’s called for, is inspirational leadership.


See also:
20 qualities of an Agile leader
Managers need to turn their thinking upside-down
Agile teams must be empowered
10 key principles of agile software development