From the self-organizing Fish Bowl3. Dezember, 2010
As already written in my summary of the XP Days, I attended a Fish Bowl session with the topic ‘Self-organizing teams’, facilitated by Uwe Friedrichsen.
The format of the session worked well. For those of you unfamiliar with the fish bowl concept: This is an open but somewhat controlled form of discussion. There are four chairs in the middle, that can be occupied by people who want to speak up in the discussion. When someone thinks they have made their point clear, they will stand up and go back to the ‘spectators’, making room for another one to actively join the discussion. The other ones (sitting outside the fish bowl) are silent observers (except from laughter, cheering etc).
Here the most interesting points of view I took away from the discussion, loosely grouped:
‘Self-organized team’ – what is that?
- A very important basis for self-organization is a functioning team. No team players, no self-organization.
- Self-organization does NOT equal chaos. There will be roles, but they will be emerging from within the team rather than being imposed from the top.
- There are still rules, but they are self-imposed and on a meta level (e.g., agreed rules how decisions are being made).
- Team role model like Belbin’s are still valid, and you should try to foster diversity in order to be successful.
- Self-organizing teams need in most cases a frame / boundaries to operate in (i.e., clear mission / targets etc., e.g., a sprint within Scrum), as most teams are part of a wider organization that is not self-organized.
Commitment & Responsibility:
- Self-organizing teams generally take on greater responsibility.
- The individuals in the team must feel some ‘pain’ when team commitments are not being met. This generates the required pressure to initiate required adjustments / improvements. (Pain as a catalyst in the feedback loop?)
The role of the coach:
- The coach needs to convey the objective and guide the team through the process.
- One more quote regarding pain: ‘The coach needs to inflict some pain on the team’. My interpretation: The coach needs to point the team to areas that need improvements, sometimes helping them to get outside the comfort zone.
The role of management:
- Managers of self-organizing teams must have the courage to stand back and let the team go (even if it seems like a tangent).
- Management in general needs to encourage the team and show sincere appreciation for the endeavors.
How to get there:
- Self-organization is the goal, even if many teams won’t get there 100%.
- Self-organized teams need a clear goal!
- Funny: When someone said ‘In our private lives, we are all self-organized’, the audience (mostly male!) burst into laughter. They were obviously thinking about the influence of their better halves on them. Let’s not go there….
- We are all trained, starting from Kindergarten, school, hierarchies at our companies, to learn and work in command&control structures. We have to (re)learn self-organization as individuals.
- Depending on the type of personality and experiences, some people just panic when they’re suddenly confronted with the level of freedom and responsibility that self-organization means.
- As with teams in general, work load balancing is easier with generalists rather than specialists.
- People working in self-organizing teams need to be / get properly skilled in communication, as this forms the connection between the individuals.
- If individuals strive for harmony only, issues will not be discussed, and the chances for improvements are thrown away.
This session really helped me to get a better grasp of the topic. As with many XP Days sessions, the input from the attendees was invaluable. Key fish in the bowl here were Ilja Preuss, Silke Reimers, Jens Oldewey, Uwe Friedrichsen, Jiri Lundak (not a complete list, sorry!). Thanks!
Another interesting post on this topic: “The Myth of Self-Organizing Teams” by Jeffrey Palermo.