What is a self-organizing team?

When Takeuchi and Nonaka studied world-leading innovative product teams in the eighties and published their paper “The new product development game” one of the key attributes they identified was self-organizing teams.

They proposed that a group possesses a self-organizing capability when it exhibits three conditions: autonomy, self-transcendence, and cross-fertilization.

Autonomy. The ability of the team to set its own direction with minimal intervention by management.

Self-transcendence. Teams set their own goals and continue to elevate them throughout the product development lifetime.

Cross-fertilization. Teams are constructed with diverse skill sets, opinions, and characteristics to incubate innovation.

Scrum supports self-organizing teams

The development team should be cross-functional, such that it contains all of the skills required to create a done increment. The development team should have autonomy over how it decides to implement its work and should agree among itself who should work on each task. There is no “manager” to decide who is going to work on what.

The development team should also have the ability to decide its own makeup by adding or removing team members as necessary, although they may have some assistance from their scrum master if requested. A development team should also have the ability to hire its own scrum master.

During sprint planning, the whole scrum team will agree on a sprint goal that should be doable but challenging. The development team will then create a detailed plan of how it will deliver the goal. Sprint planning encourages cross-fertilization of ideas and autonomy.

The daily scrum is an opportunity for the development team to fulfill their self-organizing characteristic. Independently of any managerial intervention, they should meet, review progress toward the sprint goal and make a plan for the next 24 hours.

At the sprint review, the scrum team seeks feedback from the market, customers, and stakeholders on the increment, to help continue to drive the product development.

Finally, improving how they operate by inspecting themselves during the sprint retrospective.

The combination of the sprint review and sprint retrospective aggregate to self-transcendence over time.


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