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Self-Organizing Teams of Scrum

At the heart of the scrum and agile philosophies lie a self-organizing team. The agile manifesto states that “the best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.” It is only when the development teams understand the concept of self organizing teams clearly they are able to reap the benefits from it. Making use of the collective wisdom of the team will yield better and faster results than relying on the experiences of a single project manager. 

The Fundamentals of a Self-Organizing Team

Traditionally, in legacy development methodologies, the project or product managers delegate work to the team members but the responsibility of a smooth execution lies with a single manager. In contrast to that, self-organizing teams get to choose how they want to accomplish the work-at-hand. It does not entail listing out specific pieces of work that need to be accomplished. The  scope of the work is determined by the customer, product owner or the business user. Scrum teams have the onus of dividing the work into smaller tasks, prioritizing the tasks, managing the timelines, realizing how effectively resources can be utilized, and how efficient solutions can be delivered with the available resources. 

Within the scrum framework of the agile methodology, the self-organizing team is responsible for the estimation process, technology implementation process, usage of required tools, products, documentation, as well as work distribution. Team members of course should have the required skills, capabilities, and knowledge for the job, which makes them the ideal team to select the best way forward and to reach the sprint goal. Self-organizing teams have the opportunity to explore the multiple solutions at-hand and learn from previous mistakes and build stronger teams and efficient solutions.

Self-organizing vs Cross-functional Teams

More often than not, people confuse self-organizing teams with cross-functional teams. In the traditional cross-functional approach, organizations manage the work by the team’s skill sets or roles. Usually, organizations have a range of Lines of Business (LOBs), IT engineering, IT support groups, Sales and marketing teams working in their silos which impedes the speed and quality of product and service delivery to its customers. 

Self-Organizing scrum teams on the other hand, are cross-functional where the team members possess all necessary competencies to accomplish the work, they won’t depend on others outside the scrum team.

Building a Self-Organizing Team

In order to build a successful self-organizing team, there are a few boxes that need to be ticked. 

First and foremost, it is imperative for the members to work cohesively rather than as a group of exclusive individuals. Only a group of open, enthusiastic and self-motivated individuals can lead to a successful team. 

Secondly, in my experience I have realized that diversity plays a crucial role in building a team that has better decision-making capabilities. When people of different cultural backgrounds come together we can see the results in the form of a creative and dynamic solution. Matching competencies, skill sets and mindset adds to the confidence of the team to deliver the desired outcome. 

Next, trust and respect plays a huge role in self-organizing teams. These teams are sometimes in it together for the long haul. So team dynamics is crucial for a smooth execution of the project. Frequent changes to the team can hamper and lengthen the final outcome. This is by no means a desirable situation.

And finally, adequate training should be provided to members when and where required. The scrum master overseeing the smooth execution of the project must monitor the training requirements within the team as well to make sure the team dynamics remains intact.

Benefits of a Self-Organizing Team

A heterogenous self-organizing team has many benefits

  • Better Output – The quality of work improves drastically which also increases the velocity with which work is completed. When the member are in sync, it boosts the teams confidence and productivity as a whole
  • Milestone Oriented – Since there is no specific task list, in an agile framework, the team follows certain milestones or ‘sprints’ to gauge and monitor the project. The sprint goal is the collective team goal. Since every team member contributes equally to decisions pertaining to the project, there is a sense of shared responsibility within the team. This in-turn increases team motivation since everyone feels heard and valued.
  • Job Satisfaction – With hardly any micro-management, the team values the freedom of each member. They rely on each other to work cohesively which in-turn improves performance and accountability.
  • Transparency – Transparency and open discussions form the crux of a self-organizing team. Members need to follow the agreed upon estimation process and guidelines. Every team member has the right to inspect sprint progress and take feedback from concerned team members at regular intervals.

Core Values of the Scrum:

The Scrum follows five strong pillars of 

  1. Courage.
  2. Focus,
  3. Commitment,
  4. Respect, and 
  5. Openness

All these values together enable transparency, and the ability to inspect and adapt principles of the self-organizing team. Scrum helps teams discover much better ways of approaching the problem and far sooner than would be possible in the legacy methodologies. This increases the odds of obtaining a better product with less time and effort.

The Scrum framework is devoid of  standard processes but gives the teams the  flexibility to define the process as per the needs of the project. Every team and team member is different and unique. The power of self-organizing teams lies in their autonomy and ability to adapt to any given situation. The only mantra the teams need to follow is, work in the best interest for the team, project and client. 

Shesha is an Agile Coach and Scrum Master at Mindset India. He is an accomplished leader and has designed great strategies for the organizational adoption of Agile. Successfully transitioned many development teams and customers from waterfall methodology to agile methodology in the Digital Transformation journey. He loves to travel and explore new places with family and friends.

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