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11 Steps To Building And Developing Great Self-Organized Teams

In organizations that want to become more self-organized,and less hierarchical, the quality of their teams is a key element of success. But, how do you build a solid team? How do you create a team that is able to take its own decisions and act autonomously?

In this two-part article, we’ll explain what it takes to build a strong team, from an organizational design perspective, and we’ll address how teams can continue to develop once they are self-organized.

Have An Overarching Goal
There must be a link between the goals of the team and the overarching goal of the organization. It is crucial that the team has an idea of where they want to go and how they relate to the rest of the organization.

It sounds simple, but having a clearly defined organizational goal or purpose, and teams who understand how they contribute towards realizing that goal, is challenging as well as important. This also creates alignment between different departments and ensures synergy between teams.

Smaller Teams Work Better  
In teams that have more than 12 people, it becomes difficult to have a meaningful, in-depth discussion in which everyone feels connected. Sometimes people feel excluded because others hog the conversation. Besides, it’s difficult for people to forge deep bonds in groups with more than 10 members. Smaller teams, on the other hand, are closely connected and more productive. When forming agile teams, it’s best to limit them to a maximum of 10 people.

Multidisciplinary And Customer-Centric 
Traditional organizations usually organize their teams around specific functions. However, in a self-organized enterprise more meaningful work can be created by forming multidisciplinary teams around the customer. It helps to have a simple organizational model; but making things simple is often quite difficult. Take the time to think through the composition of your teams. Many organizations opt to create regional teams or industry-specific teams.

Rotate the team leader
In order to improve leadership skills among everyone in the group, it is good idea to periodically rotate the team leader or spokesperson. Changing leader once every six months ensures that people get a new perspective and can explore how they function as facilitators.

The following topics relate to the development perspective of the team. What should teams gradually develop or organize together?

People need to get to know each other well
Members who know each other well are a prerequisite for high-performing teams. We’re talking about knowing each other beyond superficially knowing what everyone's hobbies are. Many teams therefore start with a session in which in-depth acquaintance is the goal. For instance, by telling each other so called ‘hero stories’: which difficulties in your life have you overcome? Or by exchanging development points and personal ‘operations manuals’. This increases the psychological safety and trust in the team. It creates the foundation on which strong teams are built.

Ensure roles and responsibilities are clear 
When a team grows quickly or experiences adversity, it needs to know how to adjust. This is only possible if team members know exactly what their roles and responsibilities are. This can help in making decisions about who needs to do what to adapt to the new reality.

Make decisions as a team 
Previously, decisions would be made by the team’s manager, but now the team has to make their own decisions. Beginning teams sometimes spend a lot of time getting to decisions that everyone agrees with, or by demanding that every team member gives their opinion on every subject. As a result, taking decisions require unnecessary amounts of time and energy. Try using these three tips to streamline the team’s decision-making process:

  • Consensus: absence of a major objection Newly self-managing teams can have endless discussions without coming to a decision. The reason is often that people aim to reach consensus, which is interpreted as getting everyone to fully agree, down to the smallest details.

    Instead, work with concrete proposals and actively search for major, weighty objections in the team only. Bar those, consider consensus to be reached.
  • Mandate As a team gathers maturity and begins to understand the strengths of every team member, it is a good idea to have the experts within the team take decisions on behalf of the entire team and / or to suggest decisions about certain issues within their expertise.

    Take for example a team with two or three people who are technology experts. The team can agree to give them a mandate to decide on their behalf which payment system should be used to pay suppliers. Delegates can also prepare decisions for the team. This helps to reduce stress, save time and make better decisions.
  • Be careful with voting Some self-organizing teams prefer to vote on decisions. However, this can be dangerous. Suppose there are 8 team members for a decision and 2 against. The risk is that no one pays attention to the two people who have raised objections, because they are outnumbered.

    But it is important for self-organizing teams to investigate these concerns, because there may be a good reason why the team must re-evaluate the decision based on those objections. Taking minority opinions into account may result in adjusted, improved or completely reversed decisions and a better outcome.

Develop a tactic
Teams should gradually develop their own decision-making tactics. They come from a system where the manager makes all decisions whether they agree with them or not. Now it is the responsibility of the team to decide things together. The team members must therefore investigate what works best for them.

Conflict resolution
Since there is no manager now, the team has to resolve conflicts by themselves. Team members really need to get to know each other, build trust and learn to identify where certain reactions come from. Sharing personal stories is very important in the team building process. However, when there is a strong conflict between two or three people, it can be helpful to seek help from people outside the team to solve the problem.

Giving feedback
Giving feedback remains an important topic in self-organizing teams. Traditionally, giving feedback was the manager’s role during the semi-annual appraisal interviews. However, teams become much stronger when they actively search for feedback. It helps to organize regular sessions during which team members are invited to give each other feedback.

Transparent and understandable information
Now that teams are responsible for their own choices, it is important that all business information is transparent and that teams understand that information and can base their decisions on it. Financial information is the most important. Training teams in understanding the most important financial numbers is an important step that the financial department can help with.

This is the second article in a series about the main requirements for successful self-management. In future articles, we will delve deeper into the other 4 requirements listed in this article.

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