A self-managing team is created in small steps

10 Jul 2019

A self-managing team is created in small steps

Jul 10, 2019

One of the basic principles of Lean and Agile is self-management. A self-managing team is more committed and effective. When the full brain power of the team is utilized, the solutions become more creative and better, and are created faster and more efficiently as compared to a traditional hierarchical organization. However, self-management and delegation are surprisingly difficult!

The goal of the Scrum Master is to develop team chemistry to enable self-management.


A young team needs more guidance – a mature team can be more self-managing!

You would think that an agile team is automatically a self-managing team. But that is not the case. There are a couple of things that the Product Owner and the Scrum Master need to consider when working with an agile team. The first of these is that the maturity and experience of the team directly affect the degree of self-management the team is able and willing to reach. Compared to an experienced team that has worked together for a long time, a young, newly assembled team requires much more guidance and familiarity before it can make independent decisions. And this is where the Scrum Master plays a big role. His goal is to help the team to learn how to work and collaborate, and to develop the team chemistry to enable a self-managing team.


Don’t be a hungry decision-maker – the self-managing team needs more space

Another thing to keep in mind is the delegation of decisions. While in Scrum and other agile operations the team is in principle authorized by the Product Owner to implement the described backlog item, it is really common for a Product Owner to be charged with deciding over a lot of things. After all, the Product Owner must be ready to answer the team’s questions, but this goes too far if the Product Owner is “always looking over your shoulder” and an “answering machine” – then the team will ask about every single little thing.

The Product Owner should be available to answer questions, but recently I have begun to wonder if the continuous presence is a bad thing? Would it be better if the Product Owner only had a daily “question time”? Can being constantly present eat up the team’s self-management? I think the risk exists. Sitting in the same room with the product development team, it is so easy to ask about every little thing that you run the risk of losing self-management, and the team members’ own decision-making muscles do not get any exercise.

It would be better if the Product Owner gives the team members room to make more decisions themselves.


Self-management requires a lot: boundaries, direction, empowerment, understanding the big picture…

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about active delegation. The message from this blog at the time was that it would be beneficial if the Product Owner could give space, direction and boundaries for the team members to make more decisions independently. This way the self-managing team would get practice in making decisions, taking responsibility, and at the same time reduce the Product Owner’s decision load. The Product Owner would have more time to do other things that are never in short supply for a Product Owner! For example, there is never enough communication with the customers.


With small steps, teach a young team to make independent decisions

Small steps can be taken to make decisions. If the team members are intimidated by making choices, the first step could be that the Product Owner to asks the team to create a list of options. The next step could be for the team to motivate the best option. Then it is just a small hop to the next step, where the team actually makes the choice and just informs the Product Owner. If there is perfect confidence, the team can be trusted with full authority, and the Product Owner only occasionally needs to check that things are going in the right direction. For example, in every sprint review. Another concept of self-management is found in the ideas in Management 3.0. You can learn to know this world through Contribyte’s trainings, for example.

So, a self-managing team requires more than experience and good collaboration, it also requires courage from the Product Owner to give the team space to make decisions. The boundaries, direction and goals must be clear. It is the responsibility of the Product Owner to provide the team with information to help them make the right decisions. In addition, the team must be empowered to make decisions, making it clear that “I trust you, you decide”. In any case, the responsibility remains with the Product Owner. He accepts the results of the team’s work.

A self-managing team can become so much more powerful, motivated and better decision maker that it is worth pursuing.


A self-managing team is forced to grow (mentally!)

Delegating is a tricky. It is difficult for the Product Owner, who has to give up control. The Product Owner also has to work hard to make the delegation to work for real. The team does not suddenly become a decision-maker by a snap of fingers, instead, the items listed above must be in order for delegated decision-making and ownership to work. Delegating is also challenging for a team that needs to grow a little in order for self-management to start working. A self-managing team can become so much more powerful, motivated and a faster and better decision maker that it is worth pursuing.


Checklist for a self-managing team 

Let’s finish with a checklist for better delegation:

Product Owner:

  • be present, but do not make every decision yourself
  • give space, and a clear authorization to make decisions
  • remember to say thank you!
  • monitor and fix as necessary
  • make sure that the team really understands the big picture all the time
  • for each backlog item, consider whether you can give the team the freedom to decide on a part or the whole
  • help the team towards better self-management by asking for alternatives, recommendations, decision proposals, and information about decisions made
  • make it clear that you hold the responsibility and trust the team and that it is safe to make decisions.

Scrum Master:

  • understand the team’s maturity and experience and seek to enhance it to allow for greater self-management and responsibility
  • Explore Management 3.0 delegation ideas
  • Encourage active ownership
Arto Kiiskinen

Arto Kiiskinen

Senior Consultant

In his career, Arto has worked in product development as a Product Owner, Scrum Master and Product Development Manager. The operating methods of both large and small companies have become familiar. Arto loves to improve organizational learning and product owner know-how, and write blogs on different topics. Because retrospectives are one of Arto’s favorite topics, some of his customers have given him the nickname “Retroman”. During his free time, Arto tries to live healthy, buy as many cars as possible, rewatch the Star Gate series and study to become a Personal Trainer. Arto has also written the book “OWN IT – 8 Simple Secrets of Product Owner Success”

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