Monday, July 30, 2012

An Example of a Self Organizing Team

After a recent presentation where I talked briefly about self organizing teams, someone came up to me afterward and said (I'm paraphrasing) "That team stuff is great and all, but some people are just lazy and need to be told exactly what to do and when." Argh.

But before you judge that person, let me tell you a story. In this true story you'll have the opportunity to judge me for having the same thoughts before trying a different approach. This is the story of my self organizing daughter.

My kids go to a great school - the kind of school that fosters engaged teachers who go the extra mile to create engaged students. Throughout the school year the teachers run numerous clubs before school, at lunch, or after school including run club, football club, circus club (complete with unicycles!), reading club, wrestling club, girls club, gymnastics club, etc. My kids love attending these clubs and my oldest (aged 10 during this story) was determined to be in every one of those clubs.

This is great, except there were a few problems. Many of the clubs started before the school day so she had to be ready and out the door pretty early. Since most of the clubs had a strict attendance policy (if you miss two days, you are out of the club), being on time was important. Further, because of our cold winter weather, she received a ride on many of the mornings with one of her friends. If she was late getting out the door, her friend also risked being late and missing out on the clubs.

So, being the responsible parents that we are, we nagged her out the door each the morning. "Time to get out of bed", "Have you brushed your teeth yet?" "Go comb your hair",  "It's time to make your lunch now!" "Hurray up, you're going to be late!" It made for some pretty frustrating mornings for all of us. We treated her exactly as the statement above: "some people are just lazy and need to be told exactly what to do and when." She would do the task we asked her to do and then wait to be told what to do next. Looking at it now, she was disengaged and dis-empowered. I cringe at the memory.

While this was happening, I was reading the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by the late Dr. Stephen R. Covey. I had my "Oh crap" moment when he said this:

"You cannot hold people responsible for results if you supervise their methods. You then become responsible for results and rules replace human judgement, creativity, responsibility...  Effective leaders set up the conditions of empowerment and then... get out of people’s way, clear their path and become a source of help as requested.“

After talking it over with my wife, we approached our daughter and apologized. We then discussed a new plan with her. Since she clearly was capable of getting out the door on time on her own, she would take over that responsibility. We would make ourselves available to be a source of help if requested but otherwise stay out of it. She jumped at the chance to take ownership of her morning routine. On the first day of this new arrangement she was ready fifteen minutes early and there hasn't been a day since then that she wasn't ready on time. Not so lazy after all I guess - just the victim of well intentioned managers.

After getting over my embarrassment, I pondered how this is a great parallel to self organized teams:

1. Status is known daily. We had daily status of her progress - if she was late she would miss her ride or be kicked out of a club. Our agile teams have daily standups, visual boards, frequent deliveries and demos so that everyone understands that status of the project at all times.

2. Agreed upon goals. She understood the goal (get out the door on time so that she can keep going to clubs) and desired to reach it. Self organized teams need to understand the goals of the project, not just the tasks to complete the project.

3. Freedom over methods. She started out being assigned tasks and moved to taking ownership of her own methods. Self organizing teams are given freedom to achieve the project goals and pull their own tasks rather than being assigned tasks.

4. Ask for help. She wasn't abandoned if she ran into trouble (oh no! I can't find the shirt that matches these pants!) - we stepped into help when asked. An effective scrum master, agile project manager, IT director, etc helps the team in a similar manner.

5. Empowerment brings results. This change turned a painful morning routine into a simple one because she was given the trust and responsibility to achieve the goal. When a team is given the trust and empowerment to accomplish the goal using their own methods, great things occur.

(Note :You can ready a similar story about Dr. Covey and his son entitled "Green and Clean")