A highly touted good practice for project teams is that they should be self-organized.
Rather than rigidly following direction, team members possess the necessary enterprise savvy coupled with the awareness of what they do and don’t know about the project so that they can come up with the best way for them to plan and deliver the project’s scope. Self-organized teams are flexible so as changes occur to the project, they tailor their approach accordingly. They are also resilient in that while they will rely on each other’s skills, they aren’t crippled by the loss of any one team member and they are ready to onboard and assimilate new team members into their collective.
This is in marked contrast to what is the norm in many companies.
Projects are staffed with an emphasis on resource competency rather than how well they play together. Employee performance programs are geared towards recognizing individual accomplishments over the success of project teams. And enterprise governance policies lean towards favoring compliance with process over satisfaction of control objectives.
Facing these sorts of constraints, is it any wonder that many teams exist in name alone? So when the decision is made to encourage self-organization, this change won’t happen overnight.
Team members who have been used to looking out for their own interests over the success of a team will struggle with the shift to collaboration over consensus. They are also likely to lack the necessary confidence to effectively adapt practices and approaches to fit the needs of a given project. Some might follow an anything goes approach but reprisal for failed projects or broken organization policies is usually likely to be swift. Others might be paralyzed when they request governance bodies for guidance only to be told “It depends” or “You are smart and now we’ve empowered you, so go figure it out“.
Self-organization is a progress, not a transaction.
Coaching on appropriate leadership and team member behavior can help but rarely will there be sufficient coaches in place to address the demand, not can they be procured in a time or cost-effective manner. Definition and implementation of a development strategy based on a coach-the-coach model will be critical.
For process tailoring, initial changes should focus on providing guidance for a limited number of choices where previously a single choice had been prescribed. As confidence and competency increases, constraints can slowly be relaxed.
There have been some instances in recent history where prescriptive dictatorships have been toppled by foreign powers. With projects as it is with politics, if sustainable support mechanisms don’t get institutionalized by liberators before they leave, anarchy rather than self-organization is often the tragic result.