Succeeding with self-managed teams? All for 1 and 1 for all!

August 5, 2021
by Elena Sánchez

All for one and one for all! The Musketeers, the perfect example of a self-managed team: a small group of people who take full responsibility for delivering a service or product through peer-to-peer collaboration and without the guidance of a superior. In a self-managed team there are usually no hierarchies and it is the team that makes its own decisions about the entire development process, working towards a common goal. Self-managed teams allow team members to broaden their experience and to test and master new skills by rotating roles and learning from teammates.

Peopleware

In 1977 the neologism "Peopleware" was first used by Peter G. Neumann to refer to aspects that relate to persons working in software development, such as productivity, teamwork, group dynamics, project management and the interaction of human processes with machine processes.

The success of agile frameworks in creating self-managed teams is resounding, looking for example at frameworks such as Scrum, Kanban, XP... At the center of those frameworks are those persons who provide the value, the knowledge, and the innovation to create complex products in a collaborative intellectual work.

What characteristics should distinguish a self-managed team?

A few key characteristics differentiate self-managed teams from other traditional team structures:

  • Autonomy: no one waits for a manager to tell them what to do. The team makes its own decisions. They have enough freedom and creativity to work autonomously and collaboratively. All members know the objectives and are aligned to achieve them as one.

  • Transparency: the team has all the necessary information from the organization, they know the economic benefit, and the limits are clearly defined to facilitate the team's decision-making with an impact on the costs generated for the company.

  • Trust: self-managed teams have the courage to innovate and make mistakes, and they share their ideas freely. There is trust among everyone on the team because they know that everyone will contribute to achieving the best possible results. The organization also trusts them to make the decisions they consider within limits that respect the general objectives. And although it is very obvious, for teams to work in a climate of trust, stable and lasting teams must be promoted.

  • Commitment: all the people who make up a self-managed team are constantly looking for ways to improve individually and as a group. They are committed to work in the most optimal way in the creation of a product or service.

  • Communication: the basis of human relations. Every self-managed team has a fluid, seamless communication and uses the necessary tools to facilitate the information reaching everyone in a transparent manner.

  • Equality: not only at the structural level, where we have already mentioned that we work without hierarchies, but also in terms of equal opportunities and salaries.

  • Measurement: only what is measured can be improved. That is why a self-managed team has to give value to the metrics and follow up the processes, analyze them periodically, and leave room for continuous improvement.

Advantages and drawbacks

When people have sufficient freedom to make decisions as a team, a climate of trust is created, both among the team members themselves and with the organization. Trust and freedom result in motivated individuals, inspired to share, unafraid to make mistakes and eager to improve and innovate, who create an efficient process and improve their productivity and quality.

Although a self-managed team is highly likely to improve productivity, efficiency and process quality, usually it takes a lot of time and effort from everyone involved and guidance that is clear from the start to orient the team to a successful working model.

Apart from this, not all individuals work the same in this type of team, either because they do not want to assume certain responsibilities or because this way of working may be somewhat chaotic. This will depend a lot on the type of people, the maturity of the team in general, and the culture of the organization.

On the other hand, many organizations find it difficult to give freedom to their workers for fear that things will not work out and lead to losses of some kind. In conclusion, the advantages of achieving self-managed teams will have an exponential positive impact on the organization, the employees, the products and projects and the service offered to the customer. This change of culture, however, requires an effort from everyone to make the teams successful.

What steps must we follow to create self-managed teams?

Theory is all very well, and if we have been lucky enough to work in or with a self-managed team we know what they are like. But how do we manage to create them? The following is a brief guide to the steps in creating one or more pilot teams:

  1. Form small teams: we need to identify the right people and assess the interest of potential members.
  2. Orientation and objectives: a series of clear objectives must be defined and their limits established so that the team can align itself with them.
  3. Regular support: regular support should be provided to teams to keep short-term objectives visible and achievable and to help teams achieve them.
  4. Define responsibilities and processes: a self-managed team needs basic guidelines to thrive. Defining who does what and how decisions are made is necessary to set the right course.
  5. Metrics and review: define metrics and spaces for reviewing and improving the processes and the team, ranging from specific retrospective sessions to team training in different areas that are considered relevant.

Can we help you?

In mimacom we have a maxim derived from the culture of the organization, and it is "freedom with responsibility”. While it seems simple, as we have explained throughout the post there are many factors that we must take into account to form successful teams, starting from the organization and its culture and continuing with people, helping them to grow both individually and as a group. At mimacom we can help your organization with the creation and support of self-managed teams using agile frameworks. Want to know more?

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The author
Elena Sánchez
Elena Sánchez works at mimacom as Scrum Master. Passionate about new technologies and the agile world. Always willing to learn, evolve and contribute to improve the well-being of the teams and to deliver products of maximum value.
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