25 November 2008

Self-organizing teams

Just a few words about self-organizing teams. This is the world I swim in: on my day job (especially singe we've started experimenting with Agile Software Development practices) and on my church life in the "emerging church" milieu.

As this article says, leadership is not obsolete in self-organizing teams! It's different, though, in that leaders are chosen by the team. Probably not democratically, either; instead, it's something more like consensus. Also (and this is key!) the leaders must be held accountable by the team. If they aren't needed in that role (or if they're even harmful to the team), they need to know it, and either adjust their patterns or find a different role. I can't emphasize enough how important that team accountability smackdown is to making this work.

And it's only under certain conditions that such a team dynamic is possible:
  • It needs to be a culture that truly values humility and service; not a highly-competitive culture.
  • It needs to be a culture in which the average team member truly feels empowered and envoiced.
  • It needs to be community of exceptionally high "quality" members. By "quality", I don't mean some kind of fundamental worth - all humans are made in God's image and likeness and hence are fundamentally of the very highest quality imaginable. I mean it in a very specific, utilitarian sense: people who are capable of making a real contribution to "the business at hand" ("BAH"), whatever that is. I would break that down even further to mean people who are:

    1. Gifted in ways that can directly contribute to the BAH.
    2. Not apathetic about the BAH - in some sense, they find it interesting and worth their while.
    3. Not completely self-centered; rather, they are concerned at some level with the common good.
I'm crazy-blessed that, in my church and work lives, I'm surrounded by people who are extremely high-"quality" in these ways, and part of cultures that very much meet those other criteria - cultures of humility and empowerment. It's dawning on me that I thrive in an environment like this, and would probably FAIL spectacularly in a different environment.

But just to say: not every culture, context, and environment is suited for Scrum, or for "emerging church". Not yet, anyway. Not until we take over the world. Muhahahahaha! ;-)


Tim Mathis said...

Hey Mike,

I just watched a special on the Mormons - I'm curious if you've looked into their "Ward" leadership structure? They're entirely volunteer run, but thoroughly heirarchically organized. Interesting stuff though.


Mike Croghan said...

I'm not that familiar with LDS polity, despite having lived for years not far from the Hill Cumorah where Joseph Smith found the golden tablets. But I daresay one would have an even harder time convincing me of the overall helpfulness of their hierarchy than in the case of the Episcopal/Anglican one. But I do give them props for doing all they do (and it's a lot!) with all-volunteer ministers.

Hierarchies were important, useful, and necessary for most of human history. But then, thank God, we emerged the technology and cultural context required for peer networks! ;-)