Building a self-organised scrum team
WRITTEN BY
SIMON GEER POSTED ON 12 Jul 2018

Building a self-organised agile team

The agile manifesto preaches, "The architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self-organising teams", and having filled the scrum master role on a number of significant agile scrum projects, I wholeheartedly agree!

In this article I'll look to explain what a self-organising team is, why self-organisation can be the key to delivering a successful agile project, as well as some practical tips for a scrum master to transition their team into the self-organisational zone.

What is a self-organising team?

In a perfect world, a self-organising team is a group of motivated individuals that work together towards a goal. They are flexible and adaptable, and have the ability, confidence and autonomy to make decisions. They take ownership and accountability to manage tasks, and they choose best how to deliver and implement their work.

Self-organising teams do not need tasks assigned to them, nor do they need to be constantly directed by a scrum master. The team can even take this a step further, where they evolve from a self-organising to self-optimising, excuse me while I take a moment to salivate! This is where the team experiments with their approach, learns from failures and continually strives to improve.

Why is a self-organising team the key to agile project success?

The key to delivering a successful agile project
The keys to a successful agile project

1. Encourages ownership
When teams are given the responsibility to self-organise, they will have more skin in the game in regards to delivering the user stories they've committed to in that sprint. They feel more involved and have a greater sense of ownership.

2. Improves overall motivation
The thinking behind this is that improved ownership and autonomy can lead to increased motivation. No one really likes being told what to do all the time, I certainly don't - just ask my year 9 Geography teacher. There is nothing more electric and inspirational than walking into a team of motivated people, on their A game, collaborating towards a shared goal. It gives me shivers!

3. Better quality
As a project manager, I can say this, technical solutions that are designed by a project manager (usually by proxy) can leave a lot to be desired. Giving the team autonomy to choose their own adventure will almost always result in a better quality solution and product. As they continue to learn through retrospectives, they'll become increasingly efficient too.

4. Efficient team processes
As the team is solely responsible for delivery items they've committed to in a sprint, they'll be much more likely to work together, within a multi-disciplinary team, to work out the most efficient way forward.

5. Facilitates learning
Over time, as a team, they'll learn from their failures and successes, they'll go through the highs and lows together which will ultimately make them a better team.

8 tips on how you can make your agile team self-organising

Explain the big picture and end business goal to motivate your agile team
Explain the big picture to get your team motivated

1. Choose competent team members
Team members need to be competent for the task in hand. They should have the right skills and experience to deliver what is being asked of them, as well as the confidence to know that they can do it. If they have this, then they are on track to self-organise. As a scrum master, we should understand what is planned for an upcoming sprint and ensure we have resourced the sprint team appropriately. If we have a back-end heavy sprint planned, we probably shouldn't resource 4 front-end developers with limited back-end experience and expect them to self-organise without direction.

2. Train them
This directly relates to the above point, if they are not competent for the job or task, training should be provided. It could be in the form of classroom, online or with other team members.

3. Coach them
The scrum master should adopt a style in which they are available to help team members with any difficulties, especially at the beginning as some team members may need more help than others. We need to always be approachable.

4. Mentor them
Once you begin to see your scrum team self-organise, it isn't time to put your feet up and browse reddit. You need to remain alert and work with the team to keep them in the self-organising mindset, as well as mentoring them to the next level. The work never really stops.

5. Motivate them
The Scrum Master can help to motivate the team by providing purpose. Explain the bigger picture and end business goal and then give them the autonomy to make decisions, with your backing. If wrong decisions are made then we'll pick it up in a retrospective, learn from it and move forward. We can also buy the team copious amounts of coffee, donuts, team lunches and beers. Seriously though, a motivated team will naturally become self-organising, so the key is understanding what motivates each team member and playing to that a little.

6. Build trust
The team should have trust in you and each other. They need to feel secure and supported in their decisions and trust that the team will go above and beyond when required. Being transparent and encouraging mutual feedback during retrospectives can really help here, as can organising team exercises or activities.

7. Keep them together
When and where possible, try not to break up the band. Continuity is important and more than anything, they need to be given sufficient time to grow together into a self-organising team. Constant changes to the sprint team can be disruptive and will mean you have to go through the whole process again.

8. Ceremonies, ceremonies, ceremonies
Ensure you are adhering to agile ceremonies: stand-ups, sprint planning, sprint showcase and retrospectives. These all provide an opportunity for the team to collaborate, build trust, have fun, and continue together on their path to nirvana; self-optimising.

Conclusion

I hope you find some or all of these tips helpful. It isn't an easy journey, but once the team have become self-organising they can reach new heights together. It is certainly my favourite aspect of an agile project - mentoring the team to become self-organising.

It is important to note that it is an ongoing process, and it can feel like you never are really done. Once a teams’ composition has change, we need to rinse and repeat.

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