We met on December 18 at Improving Enterprises to hear Esther Derby talk about self-organizing teams, a much-used term that can cause quite a bit of confusion when transitioning to Scrum. Esther began the evening by discussing the role of managers–yes, they are still needed, and their management style often needs to change as self-organizing teams are formed. In fact, managers have a large influence on a team’s effectiveness before the team even starts work! Esther referred to the 60-30-10 principle, based on J. Richard Hackman’s research: 60% of the variation in team effectiveness is attributable to the design of the team, 30% to the way the team is launched, and 10% to leader coaching once the team is underway. I think more than one coach’s eyes got big at this point of the talk.
Esther continued on to talk about the design of a team and the types of support a team needs. Calling a group of people a “team” doesn’t make it so–people need time to gel as a team. And teams need compelling goals, information about the work, material support, access to expertise, and feedback loops that connect them to the organization in order to become high performing. Managers need to share knowledge about the overall context of the work, and team members need to share the day-to-day knowledge of how things work to create a larger understanding between them. Self-organizing teams must balance competing needs, and more information can help them in their decision-making.
The last part of Esther’s presentation was about coaching–the 10% of variation in team effectiveness. It’s important to be available, and a coach or manager must be careful in not stepping in too soon or coming in too late. It means helping people learn skills through practice and feedback and to think through issues and see new alternatives. It may mean providing answers, facilitating, or acting as a mirror. It often means helping teams get unstuck. In the case of good coaching, it may mean a team saying “We couldn’t have done it without you. We couldn’t have done it with you.”
The evening concluded with Esther answering questions from some of our members, and overall it was a great learning experience. Thank you again to Esther for volunteering her time to sharing her knowledge and wisdom with us!