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As a Scrum Master, I have seen the benefits of self-managed teams and how they can lead to increased productivity, better collaboration, and improved job satisfaction. However, fostering a self-managed team is not an easy task. It requires a lot of effort and dedication from the Scrum Master and the team members, as well as cooperation from management.
In this article, I will share some best practices for team empowerment and how to overcome the challenges of self-managed teams.
Benefits of Self-Managed Teams
Self-managed teams have several benefits that can positively impact the team's performance and the organization as a whole. One of the main advantages is increased productivity. Self-managed teams are more motivated and engaged in their work, leading to better results. They can also adapt quickly to changes and make decisions faster, which is essential in today's fast-paced business environment.
Another benefit of self-managed teams is better collaboration. Team members have a shared sense of purpose and work together toward a common goal. They can also provide feedback to each other and improve their skills and knowledge. This leads to better job satisfaction and a more positive work environment.
Increased customer satisfaction is another key benefit of self-managed teams. By responding to change quickly, these teams can often provide more value, faster than traditional manager-led teams.
Characteristics of Self-Managed Teams
Self-managed teams have several characteristics that set them apart from traditional teams. These teams are self-driven, collaborating toward a common goal; they trust each other and share ideas freely. Team members feel safe to show vulnerability in the face of difficulty.
Open communication and transparency are critical for successfully self-managed teams. Team members are encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas openly, leading to better collaboration and innovation. Each team member feels valued and engaged.
Autonomy is a key characteristic of self-managed teams. The organization trusts the team and its members to make informed decisions. They have access to the information and resources necessary to proactively make decisions and solve problems without the need for a manager's approval.
Accountability is an important characteristic of self-managed teams. There is a flat hierarchy within the team. Team members take responsibility for their actions and outcomes as a team. As a team, they routinely look to improve practices and processes that lead to better performance rather than wait for someone outside the team to make those judgements.
Psychological safety is a key component of successful self-managing teams. With psychological safety, team members feel safe to discuss difficult topics. They trust and respect each other and offer an open, non-judgmental environment where members can show vulnerability as they search for answers.
Self-Managed Teams and The Role of Scrum Master
Self-managed teams are an essential part of the Scrum framework. Scrum teams work together to achieve common goals without the need for a traditional manager or supervisor. The team is responsible for planning, executing, and delivering the product increment.
The Scrum Master is crucial in fostering an environment that supports team efforts to be self-managing. The Scrum Master’s role includes facilitating team communication and collaboration; to nurture the team's confidence that they can and should be self-managing with regard to product development; and to coach them on processes and practices to enable improvement. Often the Scrum Master is acting as a change agent within the larger organization as well, communicating with others in the organization, protecting the team from interruptions and/or interference, and removing other impediments that slow value delivery.
Conditions for Team Empowerment
Fostering a self-managed team requires a lot of effort from the Scrum Master and the team members. My experience is that self-managed teams are a natural outgrowth of a safe, caring, communicative environment that must be proactively established. Here are some conditions that allow empowered, self-managing teams to flourish.
Establishing Team Goals and Objectives
To achieve self-management, the team needs to have a clear understanding of their goals and objectives. Generally, the Product Owner, a member of the Scrum team, is responsible for communicating the product vision and product goals, as well as defining the product strategy to achieve those goals.
The Product Owner is responsible for the product backlog, ensuring that items in the product backlog are in alignment with the product goals. Items in the product backlog are expected to emerge and change over time. It is necessary for the Scrum team members to understand and define value, size, and priority of those product backlog items.
Encouraging Open Communication and Transparency
Open communication and transparency are essential for self-managed teams. The Scrum Master should actively foster a safe environment where team members can express their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment. This leads to better collaboration and innovation. The Scrum Master should also share information openly with the team, leading to better decision-making and problem-solving. Conflict is resolved openly and constructively.
Creating a Culture of Trust and Safety
Trust and psychological safety are essential for self-managed teams. These attributes are closely linked to open communication and transparency discussed above. Open communication and transparency help foster an environment of psychological safety and trust. Likewise, a sense of safety and trust leads team members to feel more comfortable communicating openly and being transparent.
Giving Team Members Autonomy and Decision-Making Power
Autonomy and decision-making power are essential for self-managed teams. The Scrum Master should empower team members to make decisions and solve problems without the need for approval. This gives the team a sense of ownership and responsibility for their work and outcomes. The Scrum Master should provide guidance and support when necessary, helping the team negotiate conflict or disagreement when it arises. Scrum Masters are not the decision makers – they are there to help enable the team to make the necessary decisions.
Challenges of Self-Managed Teams in the Organization
Despite the potential advantages of successful self-managed teams, they are not without their challenges. Establishing such teams can be difficult, especially if there is no existing culture of using self-managed teams within an organization.
In addition to working with the teams, the Scrum Master may need to work with managers, leadership, and other members outside of the Scrum teams to help them understand the benefits and organizational changes that come with self-managing teams. The Scrum Master may need to coach them on how they can support and encourage the teams to self-manage as they move through the following challenges:
Team members may struggle to collaborate with other departments due to differences in their working styles. In this instance, the Scrum Master should lead the effort in communicating and coaching with the other departments.
Those who are new to self-managed teams may feel anxious about the added responsibilities they will have to take on. Coaching can help them understand the team culture and foster comfort with the process.
Conversely, first line managers or other team leaders may feel that their authority is being undermined by the transfer of some responsibilities to the team. Coaching by the Scrum Master in how their role may change is crucial in removing roadblocks caused by fear.
Everyone involved may require additional training to acquire the necessary skills for their new roles. Identifying these new skills and working together to cross train team members is an important aspect of self-managing teams. When the skills need to be learned outside the team, identifying and arranging for that training is a responsibility of the Scrum Master.
Challenges that Self-Managed Scrum Teams Face
Self-managed teams face several challenges that can hinder their performance. One of the main challenges is the lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities. The Scrum Master should work with the team to define their roles and responsibilities clearly. This gives the team a clear understanding of their work and outcomes.
Lack of trust and accountability can pose another challenge for self-managing teams. The Scrum Master should work to create a culture of trust and accountability where team members hold each other accountable for their work and outcomes. This leads to better performance and job satisfaction.
Fostering self-managed teams in Scrum requires a lot of effort and dedication from the Scrum Master and the team members, as well as understanding from other parts of the organization.
Members of the team and organization will need to be open to change for self-managing teams to thrive. However, the benefits of self-managed teams are significant, including increased productivity, better collaboration, and improved job satisfaction. By following the best practices for team empowerment and working to overcome the challenges that self-managed teams face, everyone in the organization will be able to reap the full benefits of self-managing teams.