Self-Organizing Teams and New York's Soda Size Ban

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All of you have probably heard the news involving the recent ban on larger soda sizes in New York and the subsequent un-banning. There are people who are arguing against the soda size ban, and they are challenging government not to micro-manage their lives. On the other hand, there are people with views who vouch that this ban would help improve the health of overall society as well as reduce the tax burden.

These conflicts in thinking that occur in societies in which a group of people resist an unpopular decision are nothing new and not restricted to large societies at all. We see these things in our day-to-day life—even in our work places.

Have you come across situations where project teams have resisted changes suggested by their leader? To add another twist, what if the teams were self-organizing, as in the agile world?

Self-organizing teams are supposed to have clear goals and manage their own priorities to achieve them. This does not mean that they are leaderless. Let me clarify at the outset that self-organizing teams have leaders and someone to monitor and support them.

As author and developer Jim Highsmith says, they need light-touch leadership. Leadership needs to step in if the self-organizing team are treading in the wrong direction, thus moving away from the goal.

I heard a story from the trenches about a particular self-organizing team going through this journey. This new agile team felt it was a waste of time to do Scrum rituals and collectively decided to skip the daily stand ups and retrospectives.

As expected, the ScrumMaster stepped in, did the root-cause analysis, and found no reason to skip the rituals. The ScrumMaster then tried coaching the team about the importance of rituals and why team members should not ignore them.

However, the team members decided to escalate further to senior management to get support for their cause. Let’s say you are part of senior management. Would you be supporting the ScrumMaster or the team? I am sure most people would agree to support the ScrumMaster since the daily stands ups and retrospectives help agile projects, teams, and their own bottom-line in the long run.

However, what if management supported the team's skipping the rituals? Supporting the ScrumMaster would have caused more agitation by the team, which would result in a loss of team morale. Tying this story about self organization back to the New York soda ban, I see that Mayor Michael Bloomberg (ScrumMaster) had all the good intentions to save lives by bringing this change; however, he didn’t get support from the citizens (self-organized teams).

How would a ScrumMaster bring about change in the above situation? What kind of management practice could help team members change their minds?

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Venkatesh Krishnamurthy

Venkatesh Krishnamurthy is an author, speaker and a coach. In his 15+ years of career in the software industry, he has played different roles as a developer, architect and an Agile coach.