Creating an Environment that Supports Self-Organizing Teams

Printer-friendly version

Agile teams are self-organizing, cross-functional, and very non-hierarchical. Self-organization is essential to make a process like Scrum work. Often those more familiar with a command-and-control approach to organizing teams are skeptical about the viability of a process that doesn’t have external motivations or punishments.

One approach to motivation is an offer of money. But money isn’t always the best motivator. Among the ten things employees want more than a raise, they want to feel proud of their work and not to be micromanaged.

Acknowledgement is simple to do and can be a very effective motivator. Self-organizing teams provide a clear path to intrinsic motivators like autonomy and mastery, which are effective ways to increase productivity.

On the flip side of incentives is to look for accountability, which is often another word for blame, when things go wrong. However, accountability isn’t the right approach either. While understanding the reason for a problem is useful, blame makes it hard for people to think about ways to solve problems.

While blame is not helpful and financial rewards aren’t always the best, people do sometimes appreciate incentives. The challenge for self-organizing teams is to set up a reward structure in a way that does not reduce the value of any intrinsic motivators.

The Scrum Alliance offers some suggestions for self-organizing rewards. The idea behind the Scrum Alliance’s approach is that “The manager decides how much to reward. The team decides why/what/who/when/where/how to reward.”

Self-organizing agile teams leverage some basic qualities about what motivates people to help teams deliver. These qualities often run counter to traditional management structures, so it takes effort to create an environment that provides incentives that support, rather than detract from, this self-organization.

What motivates you in your work? Do these motivators align with the values of your organization?

Printer-friendly version

Something to say? Leave a Comment

Steve Berczuk

Steve Berczuk is a Principal Engineer and ScrumMaster at Fitbit in Boston, MA. He is the author of Software Configuration Management Patterns: Effective Teamwork, Practical Integration, and has an M.S. in operations research from Stanford University and an S.B. in Electrical Engineering from MIT.