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The 8 attributes of self-organizing teams

The ability to work in self-organizing teams are becoming key skills not only for entrepreneurs but also for individuals working for organizations like Zappos, which have no managers. I recently had the chance to visit Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas. Another successful example of a We Company where employee’s ideas matter and self-organization prevails over the […]

8 characteristics-of-self-organizing-teams

The ability to work in self-organizing teams are becoming key skills not only for entrepreneurs but also for individuals working for organizations like Zappos, which have no managers.

I recently had the chance to visit Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas. Another successful example of a We Company where employee’s ideas matter and self-organization prevails over the chain of command. There are no managers, everyone focuses on their job, not their position. Everyone is important, from employees to clients and suppliers. Does it look like something impossible or unthinkable? Yes, but it is not. It is not easy either, but can be done, and generate great bottom line results at the same time. The way that Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO put it, chase the dream, the money will eventually follow.

Chase the dream, the money will eventually follow

Tony Hsieh – CEO Zappos

So, is it true that they have no managers? Well, they have less layers between employees and customers, as they are organized in teams. There is no clear hierarchy. Teams have leaders, they are called lead links (Zappos uses this title, other companies use different names), as they still need people to facilitate work and hold others accountable. In traditional structures only managers have the authority to make decisions. In their organization, everyone has the authority to make changes to the company and decisions in their work. That is what we call self-organizing teams.

The idea of self-organizing teams has been promoted since the Deming methods since the 1950s applied by Japanese companies like Toyota, and has been recently popularized by the agile manifesto developed in 2000 applied to build agile teams in the IT sector. One of the 12 principles of the manifesto is that “the best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.” You want self-organizing teams consisting of motivated individuals. You just give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

8 attributes

  1. Small teams: less than 12 people including a lead, the magic number is usually six. Jeff Bezos uses the “two-pizza team” philosophy, meaning the than should be small enough to be adequately fed by two pizzas, that is six to ten. Google recommends three to six people. By keeping team smalls, you can work with the same amount of people on a large number of different projects.
  2. Transparent: communication is fast and mostly face-to-face or online to ensure no delays or miscommunication.
  3. Autonomous: people are encouraged to choose how they will work. They are encouraged to experiment and create new ways of adding value to customers. The fact is that the people actually doing knowledge work usually have the best idea of how to do that knowledge work, given they have the proper experience. So, why not let them do it their way? This way you get faster and more creative decisions that improve customer satisfaction because they have taken closer to the gemba, where the customer is or where the action takes place.
  4. Quick decision making: A self-organizing team sets the limit of how much work they are expected to complete within a certain time frame. This means the team sets the expectations about what they have to complete. Usually, they even have their own budget
  5. Cross-functional: They consist of a mix of people who have different knowledge so that they have access to all the skills necessary to effectively deliver value to customers.
  6. Disciplined: even though they make lots of decisions about how they work, they follow through the agreements that were made at the beginning of the team formation, so that’s why is important to set clear goals, values and rules, and follow-up or assist closely when someone is not able to meet them. The team members must be able to work in a self-organized environment. Almost everyone can do it, but people are not usually used to it, so at first, it may be hard. Zappos recommends “Hire slowly for culture and fire quickly for culture.” They have two interviews, one for technical fit and another for culture fit, both need to be a YES. And after the first week, they offer $1000 to the employees that want to leave the company, that way they make sure they only keep the ones that are engaged.
  7. Value Respect: achieving a diverse workforce and obtaining the potential benefits of diversity is not just about recruiting and hiring a diverse team. To fully experience the benefits of diversity, leaders need to create a workplace wherein members of that diverse team feel appreciated and encouraged to share their perspectives
  8. Clear habits: The team members share a company culture or common behaviors and habits that they value and respect, that helps them make decisions and achieve results aligned with the company purpose. I call this “The We Culture“. In every company is different, but there are main habits that are practiced by everyone (any employee, no matter the hierarchy) at any time: connect to each other, ask questions (don’t simply accept the status quo), respect and empower.

This is just an introduction to the subject, keep reading the next blog posts to get to know the path to implement self-organizing teams and the main things to consider before even getting started.

Do you have experience with self-organized teams? Leave your comment below!

Lu Paulise

[email protected]

@lupaulise

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