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

If you hire, manage or lead people, you’ve likely heard the buzz. There is an increasingly common desire in business for self-organizing teams. From Amazon’s two pizza teams to Spotify’s squads, the value of small, self-organizing teams has been well documented:  

  • Rapid innovation in complex organizations 
  • Full ownership, accountability, and visibility from conception to delivery  
  • Those closest to the work best understand the needs 
  • Lower communication costs, higher productivity 

The management style in place today  delivers exactly what it is designed to deliver. If you want different outcomes, you must change that system, not the people. Don’t ask people to collaborate if, in the end, there will be a winner and a loser. 

If you want self-organizing teams, concentrate on creating the conditions in which self-organizing teams naturally arise:   

  • Collaboratively create an environment of trust and transparency  
  • Demonstrate trust 
  • Ask, don’t command 
  • Make it safe to collaborate, to try, and to fail 
  • Hire based upon positive bias and aptitude for the work 
  • Implement positive reinforcement 
  • Reward desirable behavior 
  • Do not punish undesirable behavior 

But, to be clear: there is no magic formula. However, there is hope in the form of a community and tools centered around these ideas. They’re not hard to find, they’re shouting from the mountaintops! Seek them out, and you’ll see them everywhere. 

The self-organizing team community suggests that you understand your context, make adjustments, learn, and iterate. Encourage the teams to pay less attention to their output and more to the outcomes they generate. Help them understand how their work matters. Once you’ve got a foundation, use tools like Scrum, Retrospectives, and Open Space to reinforce these ideas.  

The real change starts with you. Where you place your attention is where change becomes possible. 

Check back next week for part 2 of this analysis of self-organizing teams. 

Scott Henderson 

Business Consulting Senior Manager | Percipio Consulting Group, Inc.