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Self Organizing teams

One of the key elements of having a high performing team in any environment, especially for an Agile team, is that everyone need to be self-motivated and the team needs to be able to self organize.  As people we really do prefer to have someone else tell us what to do because that takes away our responsibility and accountability.  I know I am less committed and motivated to do anything when I am told what to do.

One of the challenges of working with contractors and offshore resources is getting them to be self motivated and self organizing.  Companies in the USA have built relationships with offshore companies and contractors where we tell them what to do and codify the details in a Statement of Work and detailed work orders.  We then tend to 'punish' teams if they don't meet those SOW and detailed work orders without considering the situations that causes for why our expectations to be meet.  These actions create the perfect reason to be dependent on detailed direction from a 'boss' who is 12 hours away.

Well I don't want to operate this way.  As a project manager I have never operated this way.  I have always worked with teams to help them know what the goals and the overall scope of the work we have to accomplish is.  And then I help them organize, divide and own how to get the work done and how long it will take to get the work done.

For Agile teams it is absolutely essential that every member of the team be self motivated and the whole team has to self organize around the work.  So how do we get self motivated & self organizing teams?  Here are some of the things that I do.

First of all I explicitly set the expectation that every member of the team must be self motivated and the entire team must be self organizing.  I let everyone know that being self-motivated means they look for what needs to be done and they decide to do it without being asked or looking for permission.  They always let us know what they are doing the stand up meetings.  If it turns out there is something more important then we will talk about it.

As for self organizing this means that the offshore team knows each others skills and personalities much better than I will ever know.  Because of that they are going to know who is best for doing which kind of work and who needs to work with whom.  They are also in the best position to know who is not pulling their own weight.

Self organizing also means identifying where we need to improve the process.  Many offshore teams are very nervous about identifying problems because they are afraid of hurting peoples feelings or that the contract might be canceled if any weaknesses are identified.

Along the way I have the job of providing positive encouragement whenever someone demonstrates one of these traits.  Either in email the individual or team, during retrospectives, or standup meetings.  It is a slow process to get people to change old habits, especially when you are dealing against cultural norms.  But it can be done because people are people everywhere around the world.

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