Self-Organization: It’s really just a matter of trust

- Agile and Lean Principles

by Jennifer Riggins

One of the prevailing themes — and one of the most misused misconceptions — of agile is self-organization. From cells to solar systems, self-organization is inherent to nature. And yet we somehow reject the concept in management.

Self-Organization: It’s really just a matter of trust.

One of the prevailing themes — and one of the most misused misconceptions — of agile is self-organization. From cells to solar systems, self-organization is inherent to nature. And yet we somehow reject the concept in management. About 20 years ago, an IT crowd of white men wrote in the Agile Manifesto: “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.”

Despite a non-inclusive group driving two decades of the culture of software development, they in theory had a great idea for inclusion. But it didn’t really happen that way. It’s more like how Management 3.0 CEO Ralph van Roosmalen puts it:

“People have mortgages, kids, cars, need to decide about insurances, all big responsibilities. The moment people enter the office, most organizations assume they can’t take any responsibility anymore.”

I’m not sure what made humans so suspicious — probably experience —  but self-organization usually fails because we lack trust.

How can we get it back?

Trust, self-organization and psychological safety is an emergent theme for this year’s Agile Tour London. It’s also an emergent theme for the four talks and workshops given by the four Management 3.0 facilitators joining us from Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and here in London. 
Agile Tour London is a one-day conference with six tracks of talks, workshops, and networking all around agile themes.

Getting to Know You: Trust begins with empathy

If you’re reading this, you may already know the Management 3.0 Practice of Personal Maps. Based on the concept of mind mapping, a Personal Map is diagram that visualizes a sort of organizational structure between you and key aspects of your life — like home, school, work, hobbies, family — and the relationships among them. Basically, it’s the visual story of your life. Or at least what of it you want to share with your colleagues. Besides creating your own Personal Map, it’s a pretty open activity. You can present your own. You can take turns presenting each other. And you can break down the physical and metaphorical cubical walls by finding things in common. Or just interesting things you didn’t know about someone.

At #ATLDN, Claire Donald is going to kick off our special new experimental Networking Track by teaching Personal Maps. Claire is adding an added twist with a sort of “speed networking” to pair with this activity.
And then we are going to make an Über Personal Map, where we throw all the maps up on the wall and draw lines to show common links between these common points and not-so-common people. Can’t wait to see that colorful, bubble-filled beauty at the end of the conference — and to hear about how it helped people connect faster!

What’s a leader in a self-organized world?

Let’s face it. At 20, agile is struggling with a lot of outdated terms. Agile leadership is a hot topic — and a whole track at this year’s event — but it also sounds like an oxymoron. Scrum Master sounds like the opposite of what it’s supposed to be — maybe a Scrum Guide would be better? And manager roles and tiers still dominate job adverts. As agile evolves, and as it spreads across organizations and function, how does the role of leadership change?

Dariusz Wylon argues that part of this struggle is our living in a VUCA world — one that’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Dariusz has spent the last couple years at Selleo, a mid-sized software development company, experimenting with some innovative management techniques for building teams who are collaborative, innovative, creative and productive. For them, self-organization is possessing a sense of “psychological ownership” of your role. And then Ralph will get into how the Management 3.0 team behind the scenes works. The team of only nine members distributed across four continents is fully self-organized, yet Ralph has the title of CEO. Learn about how a flat team decides salaries, who does what, bonuses, and hires and fires.

How can self-organization scale?

It’s rather simple for a team of eight or so employees to self-organize. But how does that scale? The Scaled Agile Framework is far from beloved. Yet it’s what’s driving 30 percent of agile at scale initiatives. With possibly no better alternative to SAFe, Almudena Rodriguez Pardo talks about what SAFe is, what it isn’t, and how to leverage it and your team! 

All this, plus we have a whole track on Agile Leadership. How will you self-organize to empower your organization?

Agile Tour London is a one-day conference with six tracks of talks, workshops, and networking all around agile themes.


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