The five signs of a self-managing team

team_huddleA team is unlikely to meet its delivery commitments if its members are constantly relying on the project manager, their people managers or stakeholders to progress. If the project manager calls all the shots, it’s rare that team members will begin to rely on one another and unhealthy tension is likely to emerge as each team member vies for more attention from the dominant stakeholder. While it is more common to see it referenced in the context of agile projects, the idea of a self-managing team can apply equally well to traditionally run projects.

A lot has been written about the ways in which a leader can facilitate team development, but what are some of the key signs of self-managing, high performance teams?

Accountability from within: On self-managing teams, rarely does someone from the outside have to remind a team member of their commitments.  Each team member has a high level of self-discipline but is also keen on ensuring the team’s credibility remains untarnished and they will go out of their way to help or coach fellow team members who are at risk of missing the mark. They will also not hesitate to ostracize or eject a team member who repeatedly demonstrates an inability to help the team progress.

Embedded continuous improvement: The team owns its work practices and continually assesses the effectiveness and efficiency of these practices. When defects occur, the team doesn’t start the “Blame Game” but seeks to identify and implement methods of prevention.

Unconscious yet effective delegation: When a new work item emerges, who will need to work on it rarely needs to be negotiated. Each team member knows and respects the unique abilities of his or her peers and the assignment of activities begins to resemble the ball passing abilities of a high performing, highly cohesive sports team.

Organic onboarding: When a new team member joins, the team as a whole takes the effort to learn about the new team member’s competencies and experience.  In turn, they will also ensure that the newcomer learns the same about the rest of the team and is taught the written and unwritten rules of behavior which the team follows. With such teams, it is also rare that a decision is made to bring on a new team member without the team’s involvement in the recruiting process.

A culture of recognition: Self-managing teams rarely crave or actively seek individual recognition from without. They share equally in the success of the team as a whole, but recognize each other on a daily basis in small ways with simple rituals such as picking up a coffee for a team member who is too busy to go and get one. They also begin to develop a higher level of emotional intelligence with each other which helps them understand when a team member is down and in need of some encouragement.

Sounds like nirvana, doesn’t it?

Two reasons we so rarely see teams demonstrate all of these signs is the authoritative approach used by many project managers, sponsor or people managers and the inability or reluctance for many organizations to form teams which persist from project-to-project.

As with most organizational performance challenges, we have seen the enemy, and he is us.





Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Delphi method improves qualitative risk assessment

oracleDelphi method is commonly used when estimating activity durations or other types of quantitative decision making but it can also be effectively used for qualitative applications.  One such use case is when you need to qualitatively assess a list of identified risks.

How did you run your last risk identification and assessment session?

As the group was identifying risks, what approach was taken to derive subjective impact or probability values for each risk?  A common practice is that the person who identified the risk is also the one who determines its impact or probability.  While they might be a subject matter expert, they are also likely to have risk biases which might influence their assessment.  Once the risk identifier has provided the probability and impact information, other participants are unlikely to challenge the expertise of the individual.

The same could also happen if a collaborative approach in which risks which have been captured on Post-it notes are grouped onto flip charts representing each impact/probability combination.  Once placed, inertia is likely to overcome the desire to make corrections unless an egregious assessment has been done.

Overcoming bias and inertia are two strengths of Delphi, so try this approach the next time you are facilitating a risk session.

  1. Give each risk session participant a set of cards with each impact or probability value written on an individual card.  For example, if you are using the common very low to very high scale, you would give them five cards each.
  2. As each risk is assessed the person who identified the risk is asked to provide as much context as possible.
  3. Each team member simultaneously shows the card which best represents the risk’s impact.
  4. If everyone has selected the same impact value, record it.  If there is roughly an equal distribution between two sequential ratings, ask the group to pick one.  However, if there are one or two outliers among the ratings, have those individuals explain the rationale behind their rating.  Then ask the group to repeat step 3 to re-evaluate the risk’s impact one more time and if there is still not a consensus, pick the value which best represents the group’s decision.
  5. Steps 3-4 can then be used to assess the probability of the identified risks.

While there is some risk of a strong influencer swaying others to change their evaluation (The Twelve Angry Men scenario), this approach should reduce the likelihood of that occurrence.

So the next time you need to perform qualitative risk assessment, consult the oracle!






Categories: Project Management, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Coaching lessons from change management

coaching_coachingDr. Kotter’s eight-stage process provides a whole lifecycle model for implementing successful transformational change.

But could it also be applied to coaching for performance and development?  Let’s review a few of the stages and find out…

Establishing a sense of (personal) urgency

If you are unable to ignite and sustain the need for change within a team member, you’ll likely experience the old adage of leading a horse to water but being unable to make them drink. The same sins of complacency and a false sense of urgency which throttle change efforts within organizations also exist within individuals. How many times have you heard a team member say “I think I’m doing a good job” or “Look at all the work that’s on my plate!“?

Taking staff out of their comfort zones by exposing them to objective feedback from stakeholders outside of their immediate circle or defining performance targets which require a real stretch are just a couple of ways of creating that true sense of urgency required for personal growth.

Developing a (personal) Vision and Strategy

While staff should be primarily responsible for their personal development, a good people manager can help by challenging and refining the end state and by helping them to define realistic strategies to achieve that end state.

If a team member needs to improve their influence and persuasion skills, it is of little use for a manager to just tell them that. The team member may have no idea as to what that means or how to get there, and if left to their own devices, might proceed down a path of self-improvement which leaves them worse off.

On the other hand, if the people manager communicates a simple but powerful vision of what improved influence and persuasion looks like and helps the team member by challenging and whittling down potential strategies, they are setting up their team member for success.

Generating Short-Term (personal) Wins

With transformational changes, it is crucial to realize some tangible successes early on to ensure continued sponsorship and to keep people focused on achieving the end state.  Without this, interest and support for the change are likely to fade over time.

An individual team member’s journey to achieve development objectives might be equally long and arduous.  In such cases, it’s a good idea to encourage them to define milestones along the way to provide them with positive reinforcement and to keep them engaged in their development process.

If the challenges with transformational change within organizations also exist when helping our team members develop, good practices for change management can also be applied to coach for performance.


Categories: Facilitating Organization Change | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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