How do you create self-organizing teams? You don’t. Part 2

It’s not just companies and managers who want self-organizing teams; people doing the work have very similar goals: 

  • Autonomy – the desire for self-direction  
  • Mastery – improvement in areas which matter to us 
  • Purpose – a sense that our work is meaningful.  

“There is an ugliness in being paid for work one does not like.”  -Anaïs Nin  Diary1941 

Science suggests autonomy, mastery, and purpose are far more effective than incentives for motivation. So if companies, their people, and current brain science all indicate the same path to success, why is it so hard to achieve? 

“Although teams are the natural unit for humans to get tasks done, Western post-industrial society makes teamwork harder than it needs to be… But nature wins in the end, and with good reason, teams are now making a comeback.”  -Dave Winsborough @winsboroughdave 

Explicit goals destroy intrinsic motivation. Prescriptive instructions are a barrier to thinking and creativity. Punishments are ineffective motivators. You’ve hired smart people, but how do you demonstrate trust? Why should they use the gifts that inspired you to want to work with them?  

“You can buy a man’s time, you can buy a man’s physical presence at a certain place, you can even buy a measured number of skilled muscular motions per hour or day. But you cannot buy enthusiasm, you cannot buy initiative, you cannot buy loyalty; you cannot buy the devotion of hearts, minds, and souls. You have to earn these things.”  -Charles Francis Chairman, General Foods 

Engagement may be the most elusive quality in the modern workplace and it’s intimately tied to safety. When failure happens do you ask: ‘Who made a mistake?’ ‘What went wrong?’ or ‘Help me to understand what you’ve learned?’ Each approach creates a very different environment. 

“Tell me how you measure me, and I will tell you how I will behave.”  -Eli Goldratt Author “The Goal” 

The prime directive of an Agile Retrospective is that “Everyone did the best they could with the information they had available at that time.” This assumes most failure is based on good faith actions which lead to unexpected outcomes. When we think about failure, typically our judgement gets in the way of analyzing.  

“The way we recall things when we succeed is different to the way we recall them when we fail, and neither have any relation to what actually happened.” -Dave Snowden Complexity Scientist 

By encouraging blamelessness on our teams, we instill understanding that some failures are systemic and unpredictable except in retrospect. It’s very likely this approach is new behavior which must be learned through reinforcement. Most team members will expect punishment for bad behavior, despite the fact it’s been proven to be counterproductive. 

When starting a new project, figure out what is needed to be successful for the business. Then get everyone together and tell them. Ask them what they need to accomplish that, and then get it for them. Seem too simple? That’s exactly how high performing teams operate. 

“Treat employees like they make a difference and they will.”   -Jim Goodnight Co-Founder & CEO of SAS 

The autonomy, mastery, and purpose of the team can only come from creating a space in which it can happen. Culture is an emergent property which resists analysis and can’t be designed. You’ll discover what your culture really is once you try to change it. You can no more self-organize for the team than you can accomplish the work without them.  

HOW you work together is more important than WHAT you are working on and even WHO you are working with.”  -Alison Coward @alisoncoward 

Recognizing the value leadership can bring to that equation is the key to success. 

Scott Henderson Business Consulting Senior Manager | Percipio Consulting Group, Inc.