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Can Staff Departments Truly Take A Step Back?

When you are moving from a traditional hierarchy to a more agile setup, it is important that teams learn to take ownership of problems. By empowering teams to solve their issues as much as possible, the organization can eliminate lethargy and create momentum.

While this may seem counterintuitive, especially in areas which require specialist knowledge like finance or human resources (HR), there are many responsibilities that are parked under these areas in traditional setups that could be better handled by the teams themselves.

 

Redefining The Role Of Staff Departments
Very often, agile organizations, like Semco, Buurtzorg, and Sofort for example, don’t work with a lot of staff departments. In these organizations, a lot of those traditional responsibilities have been taken over by the teams gradually. Of course, it doesn’t mean that these staff departments have grown entirely obsolete in these organizations - instead, they have found a way to organize these responsibilities in ways that promote ownership and effectiveness.

While traditional hierarchies transition into agile ways of working, the primary concern is to map out holistically what these responsibilities are; and, to meaningfully divide, between the specialist and the team, those responsibilities. This provides insight into what work requires expertise, or is regulated (like a CPA), and what can be handled by the team.

It also doesn’t mean that responsibilities which have been handed over no longer require participation from the specialist department - they just may no longer be the dominant factor in decision making. By taking a hard look at the division of responsibilities within the organization and getting teams to embrace decision making across all aspects of their work, the organization will be more efficient and agile.

Case Study: Decisions That Involve Teams Are Better
A company once wanted to implement an agile way of working. During this process, they found out that many people in their call centers were not happy with many things. For example, they were falling sick because of prolonged use of bad headphones or bad chairs. The procurement department looked into it and agreed that the employees bad chairs.

Hence, they decided to surprise the employees with chairs that were touted to be “the best”. Yet, the team didn’t use the new chairs and they continued using the old ones. This really threw the procurement department off, as they were trying to understand why the employees weren’t happy with the new chairs.


Using Open Dialog To Make Decisions
However, when they involved the call center employees in the discussions, they found out the new chairs were missing a component that the old chair had, which was important for their comfort. After involving the employees, and hearing their concerns, the organization decided to sell the new chairs and buy new chairs which met the requirements of the team. Involving the team to decide on things that really mattered to them made the whole process more efficient.

By developing ownership over what they need, teams in an agile setup will be more involved in the outcome. They are also more likely to be responsible for their decisions and vested in the overall efficiency of the organization.

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