What Powers The Drive To Self-Organize in Scrum

Scrum Teams are self-organizing and cross-functional.
- The Scrum Guide

A finely tuned and well-oiled team is the best competitive advantage for an organization.

Individual prowess, exceptional skills, great techniques are all givens because only exceptional individuals form an exceptional team.

An individual could deliver a great output but only a team can deliver a great product because getting a product to market involves many verticals or divisions working together to shape the delivery.

The most desirable quality for a Scrum Team to possess is to be successful in its collaboration.

Collaboration is the chief cog in the wheel that ensures Agility in a Scrum Team.

Collaboration happens only through mutual respect, shared understanding of team goals, empathy, ownership of responsibilities and accountability in place.

Collaboration does not mean coordination orchestrated by the HR or the senior management.

Collaboration is an attitude that is expected of each team member as part of them being self-organized.

This is the essence of the cross-functional team that the Scrum Guide defines as,

“Cross-functional teams have all competencies needed to accomplish the work without depending on others not part of the team.”

In today’s world of growing preference for remote work, many teams have become distributed and work virtually!

This means that additional constraints imposed by the ‘foreign’ culture, language, and even time zones, need to be considered by a team in its efforts to self-organize itself.

Different time zones can hamper the team to properly align itself and work in some contrived form of cadence.

The most aggravating problem caused, in this context, is to set the right time to conduct the Daily Scrum, the most important Scrum event that helps in self-organization and in enabling transparency, inspection, and adaptation in the team. The fallout, that I have experienced in many remote teams that I have worked with, is that many team members, working in the remote work setup, frequently dial in late or skip the event altogether.

In this article in Harvard Business Review, it says that 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional and among many other reasons, says

“…one of the common breakdowns in cross-functional teams is people missing meetings.”

Dysfunctions in a team are widely classified into 5 categories — lack of trust, fear of conflict, low or lack of commitment, lack of accountability and team apathy.

Compare it with what the HBR article says,

“Cross-functional teams often fail because the organization lacks a systemic approach. Teams are hurt by unclear governance, by a lack of accountability, by goals that lack specificity, and by organizations’ failure to prioritize the success of cross-functional projects.”

The steps, outlined in the infographic above, are essentially how a Scrum Team becomes self-organized!

By not missing or skipping the Daily Scrum event, the team stays focused on the Sprint Goal.

By conducting the Sprint Planning event correctly, the team gets the right direction to progress towards and with the help of a Sprint Goal, the purpose of self-organization becomes more specific.

When goals are specific, responsibilities become clearly demarcated, ownership increases and accountability is established.

As trust increases and each gets familiar with the other’s attitude, the fear of conflict lessens.

As fear lessens, accountability increases and trust in each other gives them the courage to every team member to boldly take responsibility because they can now depend on the rest of the team to back them, if required.

Once this stage is reached, celebrations are more likely to happen over the collective success of the team rather than on individual successes!

The more the team becomes self-organized, the more collaboration will happen.

Self-organization, supported by a servant-leader is the key to sustain progress in a cross-functional team. Scrum Teams with varying levels of knowledge and skills in different domains should not have one overseeing power acting as a chief coordinator or as the chief subject matter expert.

Cross-functional teams rarely fail in Scrum, unlike this observation in the HBR article,

“That’s why the personal accountable leader for each function also needs to appoint and empower a decision-making substitute…”

The self-organized nature in Scrum empowers the team to make decisions in the absence of another. Where the Scrum Master serves the team in order to remove impediments to progress they also facilitate group decision making. The Product Owner serves the team to maximize the value resulting from the work of the Development Team.

What powers the drive to self-organize, in Scrum, is the belief in the Scrum Values, servant leadership, and the commitment to establish and maintain transparency, inspection, and adaptation, with the help of the Scrum events and the artifacts.

I am an Agile software professional/architect/consultant/coach. I like listening to music, watching English movies/plays, playing chess & reading.