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Hasse Jansen, 19 Oct '16

Self-Organizing Teams: How to Avoid 3 Common Pitfalls

Setting up effective self-organizing teams can be a challenge. Here are three inventive solutions to three common pitfalls.

Autonomous teams have been lauded as one of the greatest developments in the modern workplace, but this unique model for getting work done isn't without its drawbacks.

Take a look at these key pitfalls and learn how to overcome them. Have your team set their own goals in line with strategy, and be certain your self-organizing team is always pursuing the goals with the highest ROI.

Let’s set the stage for overall self-organizing team success.

Pitfall #1: An extended decision-making process

In the self-organizing team model, teams are responsible for setting their own goals and determining which tasks should effectuate achieving those. While that can lead to greater employee engagement, it can also extend the decision-making process for individual projects.

Managers are used to setting goal priorities in relative isolation, but the decision-by-committee model involves a lot more discussion and debate. With no input from outside leadership, teams can get caught in an endless decision-making circle that may delay delivery. Or the project may never even get off the ground.

Solution #1: Create focus by facilitating goal transparency, and run experiments

Be clear about the main goal everybody’s working towards. Let everybody involved in planning and pursuing sub-goals know what company success looks like exactly, and how it is measured. People may have different conceptions of what would be considered success, so in many cases, setting a clear parent goal is half the problem solved.

But people may still disagree on how to achieve the (now clearly defined) parent goal. Sometimes reality is just too complex to call which goal should be achieved before you actually start pursuing it.

Therefore, run a couple of small experiments to gather relevant market data for the lowest costs possible. Send out a miniature version (or create a ‚Äėminimal viable product‚Äô) for the market to inspect and judge. Remain supremely receptive to any market signal that could predict whether pursuing the goal on a larger scale would be a good idea. Use this market data to guide team discussion and speed up the decision making process.

Or you may want to play planning poker, as described in pitfall #3.

Pitfall #2: Employees lacking self-management skills

Once they're established, most self-organized teams are highly productive. However, productivity can decline significantly when this type of system is first introduced in your workplace. That's because team members may be unfamiliar with the process, or they may lack the ability to come up with useful objectives or solutions to complex problems on their own account. And teams can also be distracted by the collaborative environment.

Solution #2: Help teams get used to self-management gradually

During the transition to self-organizing teams, it may be beneficial to help your team members to get used to setting their own goals without carrying too much responsibility. Have your team line up a couple of sub-goals that should help achieve the greater parent goal, and let the manager decide upon which sub-goal to ultimately pursue. That way, things are unlikely to go horribly wrong while the team gets used to setting their own goals.

Pitfall #3: Developed defiance and leadership struggles

Once self-organized teams get familiar with setting their own goals and really get into the groove, internal leadership struggles may develop. Greater autonomy for individuals may cause some to become imperious. While autonomy can increase employee satisfaction and engagement, it can also lead to problems for high-level organization leaders. If competing leaders emerge within the team, the team can become divided, disengaged and productivity can take a serious dive.

 Solution #3: Play planning poker and let data be your shepherd

What usually determines whether or not to pursue a goal is its expected ROI. Goal ROI is a function of Impact (on the parent goal) and Effort (required to achieve the goal). To prohibit any individual’s influence in determining Impact and Effort becoming too strong, play planning poker.

Whether it is for determining required effort or goal impact, have every team member put numbered cards on the table face down. This inhibits members from ‚Äėvoting strategically‚Äô to manipulate the final outcome. Take stock of the average score to determine your expected goal ROI. Pursue the goals with the highest ROI‚Ķ rather than that wiseacre‚Äôs personal favorites.

Catch three birds with one stone

Using a Boardview Growth Map you can help create the goal transparency and agility needed to successfully set up self-organizing teams. Using it will speed up your team’s decision making process and it will help employees to develop the required internal leadership by showing how company and team goals relate to each other.

Meanwhile, newly acquired insights about the market or internal operations can easily be fed back into the Growth Map to always remain up to date. Your team will be agile while their goals remain aligned with company strategy.

Self-organizing teams can be tricky to set up. You now know how to do it right. You can be certain your team will be pursuing goals with the highest possible ROI on a daily basis.