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How to impede self organization

Moving from a hierarchical command & control organisation to an entrepreneurial networked organisation is quite a challenge. It is difficult step when a manager has to stop telling people how to do things, stop providing ‘answers’, stop making decisions for people, stop wanting to know everything that is going on and it is especially difficult to stop overruling people when things start getting out of ‘control’.

Below some frequently encountered issues that managers face that have to do with decision making and empowerment.

The manager goes past the team and gives a direct assignment to an individual of the team.

A manager that addresses and gives special assignments to an individual in isolation distorts the common purpose of the team and is breaking the trust within the team. The managers therefore impedes the team’s ability to self-organize. Trust within the team is fundamental because trust improves the quality of interaction and connections between individuals of the team. And we know that, from a complexity perspective, the quality of interactions and connections is of direct influence on self-organization. A common purpose is also fundamental for successful self-organization because it makes sure all individuals align in the same direction and balance each others mistakes.

Example: A manager notices that the quality of the system is not what it should be. He invites one of the team members to his office and gives him the task to make sure quality goes up and stays up. Now this individual goes back to the team and feels and is personally accountable for the quality. He needs to make sure it works and will probably check other people’s work just to make sure. Trust is lowered, common purpose is blurred, communications costs rise and self organization diminishes.

The team is not allowed to decide for itself

A self-organizing team must be allowed to make decisions themselves using some kind of voting technique. This is also true when the team is included in the decision making process of something outside the team. If a team is not allowed to make decisions using a voting technique for themselves the team looses the contributions from some of it’s members, undermines it’s collective knowledge and therefore is not self-organizing.

Example: A manager appoints a team leader or Scrum Master or Architect that has the authority to make decisions in the team. Just in case the team makes a stoopid decision or in case the decision making process takes to long or some other excuse.

The manager asks for input from the team and then makes decisions based on additional knowledge that the team does not have.

A self-organizing team should have all the information available to make it’s decisions or answer it’s questions. Radical transparency as Steve Denning calls it. If a manager asks for a recommendation or answer to a question from a self-organizing team it should give the team all the additional knowledge it has. The team can now consider all variables that the manager takes into account. If a manager withholds additional information the self-organizing team does not receive the correct feedback and cannot correct itself and co-evolve with it’s environment and self-organiztion fails.

Example: A manager asks a self-organizing team how much functionality they can deliver by the release date. The manager knows that the deadline can be extended and that there is budget for additional resources of any kind. The manager is going to use this information to decide which functionality he can drop, what to communicate to stakeholders and how much extra resources he will ask for. Please make the information available to the team so they know what is going on around them.

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