Friday, August 10, 2012

No more self-organizing teams

I like headlines that have a simple message

This one--No more self-organizing teams--caught my eye for three reasons:
Now, to be fair, Mike Cohn has an excellent counter-point blog, except he more or less supports the thesis we present here when he (Mike) quotes Philip Anderson who writes in "Biology of Business"

Self-organization does not mean that workers instead of managers engineer an organization design. It does not mean letting people do whatever they want to do. It means that management commits to guiding the evolution of behaviors that emerge from the interaction of independent agents instead of specifying in advance what effective behavior is. (1999, 120)

But, back to the headline: What did Mr. Highsmith tell us? (Of course, he said more than these bullets, but these are the highlights)
  • There is just too much experience and management literature that shows that good leaders make a big difference
  • There is a contingent within the agile community that is fundamentally anarchist at heart and it has latched onto the term self-organizing because it sounds better than anarchy. However, putting a duck suit on a chicken doesn’t make a chicken a duck.
  • Delegating decisions in an organization isn’t a simple task; it requires tremendous thought and some experimentation
  • Leading is hard. If it was easy, every company would be “great,” to use Jim Collins’ term (Good to Great ).

What did he not tell us?
  • Dominance is a human trait not easily set aside; thus the natural leaders will come to the fore and the natural followers will fall-in thankfully. There's no need and no practical way to rotate the leadership once dominance is established
  • Like it or not, positional authority counts for something in all but the smallest enterprises. Thus, senior managers are senior for a reason. It's hard to establish credibility with the stakeholdes that hold the key to resources if the team is being led from the bottom of the pecking order.
  • Self-organization may deny biases and bully the nemisis off the team. Group think, anyone?
  • Delegation is a tricky matter: do only those things that only you can do
And the answer is: according to Highsmith, something called "light touch", but in reality it means leading and managing from a position of trusting the team, but mentoring the "self-organization" towards a better day.

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