Empower Self-Organizing Teams

Empower Self-Organizing Teams

Author: Fabiola Eyholzer

The digital age belongs to knowledge workers who think outside the box. No wonder, constricting processes and micromanagement are not going down well. Make sure to bring those talents together in collaborative, self-organizing teams and throw fast feedbacks, constant communication, access to data and knowledge, and decentralized decision-making into the mix. But don’t worry about accountability. Contrary to popular belief – Agile is a highly disciplined way of working. And agile teams proof that every day.


In developed and even emerging economies there is a strong emphasize on knowledge work over industrial skills. Consequently, employment in those knowledge-based economy are characterized by increasing demand for more highly-skilled knowledge workers.

According to Wikipedia that includes anyone whose job it is to solve “non-routine” problems that requires a combination of convergent, divergent, and creative thinking. In other words, those are the people responsible for exploring and creating new ideas, products, designs, and models – all that great stuff that keeps 21st century enterprises going.

As organizations (and in a larger sense as society) we depend on their ability to challenge, innovate and create. We employ them for their skills to think outside the box, yet we expect them to follow our predefined (industrial era) processes to a tee and we ensure compliance by controlling and micromanage them every step of the way. Even though we might not even know what steps are actually needed for a specific solution – because it has never been done before.

It goes without saying that this mix does not sit well. That’s why we need to embrace a different approach so that those intrinsically motivated and highly talented people can deliver the kind of performance we expect from them; the kind of performance they are capable of delivering. Because the growth of an organization is tightly linked to its ability to attract and engage the right talents and find a way to boost their performance.

At the same time, today’s challenges have a complexity and dynamic that can usually no longer be fulfilled by one person. Instead it takes a team to jointly create solutions. In Agile we bundle them into interdisciplinary power teams of ±7 people and connect them with other teams that work on the same epic. They collaborate, align assignments, identify and if possible eliminate dependencies and honor their commitments.

The teams benefit from transparency, access to data, constant communication, knowledge sharing and fast feedbacks. And inspect and adapt sessions are embedded into the workflow the same as joint planning and commitment and daily check-in standups.

That way everyone is highly engaged and involved in the definition of goals and it is up to each team to break down each objective into appropriate tasks and allocate them accordingly.

Giving teams all that latitude does not mean that they lack self-control or that we don’t hold them accountable.

Managers often have difficulties rapping their heads around the self-organizing and empowering part. They are afraid to lose control and open the backdoor to slacking – but the reality is far from it: Contrary to popular belief – Agile is a highly disciplined way of working. Agile teams proof that day in, day out.

By allowing the teams more self-determination, it is now up to the manager to become inspiring leaders whose role it is to mentor and coach, provide feedback and insights, facilitate and remove impediments, and above all develop people and unlock their intrinsic motivation.



This article is part of the series “How Lean | Agile Enterprises Push the Reset Button on Performance Management

This post was contributed by Fabiola Eyholzer, CEO of Just Leading Solutions, LLC. More information about Fabiola, Agile HR and the services of Just Leading Solutions can be found at www.justleadingsolutions.com.

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