Overcoming Self-organization Blocks in Agile Teams

At the SQD2013 conference Andrea Provaglio (@andreaprovaglio) talked about the social aspects of software development. He says, software development is intangible, collaborative and heuristic while our education prepares us for linear, standardized and predictable processes. (Software development) teams are systems. Systems self-organize, if they can. (A plant is a system, and it self-organizes; it turns towards the light).

Self-organization (in a software development team) cannot be enforced, it can only be enabled. The team cannot be empowered to self-organize: Power can be given, power can be taken. The team needs the room to emancipate: emancipation cannot be taken away. Nevertheless self-organization needs leadership to align the team with the business goals and share existing constraints. Leading is different from commanding, though.

There are indicators for why self-organization doesn’t happen:

  • People build fences. They point out other’s mistakes, like to see other’s fail, take side against something or somebody, etc.
  • There is a blaming culture, mistakes are considered bad.
  • Judgement combined with superiority and and emotional quality to it.
  • Relationships between different persons are parent-child-like instead of adult-adult. If people are getting told what to do all the time, they can hardly self-organize.
  • People feel they are paddling against the river.

Watch out for those indicators.

Andrea redefines self-organization as Collective behavior that manifests itself when the individuals take personal responsibility in co-creating a shared future. I like that.