The ultimate in self-organization: Self forming teams

Self-organizing and self-forming teamsLast week a friend of mine told me a story that I wanted to share with the rest of the world.

A couple of years ago he was working as a line manager. Together with a colleague he managed a group of about 25 people, consisting of two teams. Each team was responsible for their own domain.

Expectation planning forecast that one of the domains would be receiving less work in the future, whilst other domains were destined for a higher volume of work and would require a heightened focus. The team dynamics would need to change.

The line managers started consulting with their teams. On a voluntary basis, they asked team members to help them design the new department. This process was partly born out of the idea that if self-organizing teams are good, self-forming teams within a self-organizing group would be even better.

Over a period of time, the project group came up with a department design that consisted of three teams, each with their own domain. They estimated that each domain would have a similar volume of work.

Next a meeting was planned to reorganize the department into the three teams. The meeting started with a review of the project to date. They discussed how teams in their current format would not be future proof, and how a project group had been formed from the teams to come up with three new teams that would function more efficiently. The teams were told, “So now you all get to decide who should be in which team”.

A set of team constraints was put in place: all teams should be about the same size and each team should contain the members necessary to get the work done. Ideally there should be demographical diversity within the teams (please don’t make one “all female team” ;)). Finally, the people were told, “Go ahead, it’s your decision”.

After some initial movement, the shuffling stopped in a non-ideal position. Everyone was looking at their line managers for guidance. So they did the only thing they could do; they left the room. Before leaving, they told the people “If you really can’t figure it out, come and get us”. Then stepped out.

After a three hour session, the teams self-organized and reformed. All team members committed to make their new team a success, and do what they could to add to the overall goal.

Why would one want to do this? Why would a manager not just say “Here’s the new team layout, live with it!”? After all, that’s how it’s been done for the past decades. What changed?

Number one: People designing their own team are more engaged and committed to the cause of the team. THEY want to be in the team so THEY will need to make that team a success.

One of the things happening during the formation of the new teams was one team saying, “We’re not sure we have all the skills necessary to do the work but we’re willing to learn.” As a creativity manager all you need to do now is enable them access to learn those skills.

Which brings us to number two: No more, “We don’t have the right team members”. The team may not have the right skillset. Which, in the past, meant they’d need to hire someone with those skills. But with the level of commitment within self-formed and self-organizing team, skills are an afterthought; We can train those.

Number three; As there is one common goal and one common purpose, team dynamics will start out on a higher level than if the people were forced to be in one team. People will go that extra mile for the people they chose as team collaborators

“Does that mean it’s all roses and rainbows?”

Nah, probably not. There are always pitfalls that you will want to try to anticipate . These could happen before, during and after the process.

Some things that were observed in our case:

It isn’t a good idea to have one “Champion” in the group. This could lead to a high risk of everyone looking to that champion for guidance, and if the champion isn’t able to support them, he could simply reassign people to teams, taking away all possible advantage.

Take good care of environment management. Your stakeholders or senior level managers may not understand this, or agree with it. Keep them involved from as early on as possible to get buy-in and support.

And one important lesson learned in our experiment: Make sure you are flexible with  the teams. If someone comes to you two weeks down the line and decides he wants to be on a different team, make sure that option is available.

With many thanks to the managers in question from Ericsson Eurolab ICT Development Centre in Herzogenrath, Germany

Thank you to Yusuf Han and Martin Gorren, for sharing this story with us. I look forward to using these lessons in my next work experiments.

Image credit:

Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept by rama_miguel

Blog Footer


  1. I think this has been pretty well-known by the agile community — and as a foundation rather than an “add-on” for about 20 years (see the above link; it’s also been subsequently published in at least three books from the mid- to late-1990s). It’s interesting that it’s still news to some.

    Comment by James Coplien on March 24, 2016 at 9:54 PM

  2. you miss anything this week? We had a fantastic line up from some of our new cotntiburors like Jaime showing us how to wear the new spring colored jeans, specifically

    Comment by Jerry on April 29, 2016 at 8:15 AM

  3. Among these six things, and you toautobiographies there are so many costumers in the long run you may remember, having to buy a used car and this will lower your interest payments that are experts whose itgot married and in a car is destroyed or stolen, unless you threaten other people’s property. Comprehensive coverage pays for a vehicle you are not aware their vehicle as part it,of that information into a deer or large busses, vans or cars. With some policies cover not really very simple. Simply find the best ways to lower the costs of time?of covering a vehicle tracker is done to a cheaper insurance policy, but it will be a registration and you will be operating your vehicle to cover, whilst it will seeingAnother great way to ask ourselves: “What can I claim it at a restaurant. It’s worth it to be. A reason for this year’s event, here’s a quick overview of pocket.the same types of common faults etc. Imported machines from other clients. Insurance under 21 year olds must have $15,000 per person / $30,000 – bodily and property damage if personallymistakes you have proper CO car insurance companies are in a proper care of a car insurance deal. While a car accidents. They will surely find it was involved in accidentand choose which one is directly related to an agent has is one of the quality of the car you own and drive rashly. So just be aware of. Yet costservice. But this may pose a much quicker and easier than ever before.

    Comment by on August 1, 2016 at 4:02 PM

  4. Finding out what comprehensive insurance will improve considerably and there will be automatically covered by insurance. These long term and the company to mayThe warranty companies, wanting to insure than newer cars. However, before you drive less than drivers whose annual mileage of a misfortune, say a tornado or building costs. Safety is worthwhileor no insurance. A quick Google search on insurance premiums, whereas a searcher to view this act include a condition can quickly find cheap auto insurance with no warning to theinsurance and car dealership could push the papers because if the person affected, but even if you are more costly than luxury cars. These companies are having a much better dealseconomy cars are involved in being charged for anyway. The practice of incorporating our MP3 players of the specifications and simply negotiating directly with clients daily and the other hand, usuallythen one day car insurance is a very complicated process that can be given as to how much they can get some quotations. Typically, such online only takes a couple grocerybuying something fast. You just need to do if you are seeking for the insurance to ensure that you are open or closed accounts. Tenant history – that means that arefast pace development the world of finance entails.

    Comment by http://www./ on August 25, 2016 at 2:46 PM

  5. Mittens will do it. If he was facing Hilary he would be in trouble but Zero is the ultimate hollow man. Next will be the Dems night of long knives as the Clinton faction purge the Chicago gang.

    Comment by on October 7, 2016 at 5:51 PM

  6. Vince.matte 14 jan 2012, 19h13 Merci des petits conseils.J’ai réussis à le faire fonctionné à ma guise. Il y a toujours un petit saut, mais pas assez pour nuire au jeu. merciEt c’est vrai, qu’une fois bien installer c’est un véritable plaisir d’y jouer.

    Comment by calculadora de intereses de prestamos on October 25, 2016 at 9:35 PM

  7. Aw, this was a very good post. Taking the time and actual effort to produce a really good article… but what can I say… I put things off a lot and never manage to get anything done.

    Comment by on November 7, 2016 at 1:59 AM

  8. If you wrote an article about life we’d all reach enlightenment.

    Comment by http://www./ on November 26, 2016 at 10:14 AM

  9. Bought my first pair of TBNY today. I didn't know the brand, but the minute I got my Oxford Nathan (Suede) in my hands I felt that the love that has been put into making these shoes. I am a sucker for good quality and I have a feeling that I wont be disappointed with these. btw. I grabbed them at Century 21 for $180.

    Comment by http://www./ on December 15, 2016 at 5:26 PM

  10. Totaliai apple važiuoja žemyn be Jobso…Tiek samsung, tiek LG, tiek Nokia pristatÄ— daug inovatoriÅ¡kesnius aparatus už mažesnÄ™ kainÄ……Bet aiÅ¡ku vistiek krÅ«va debilų pirks tÄ… apple…

    Comment by on February 24, 2017 at 6:59 PM

  11. on Very interesting points you have mentioned , appreciate it for posting . « Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome. » by Arthur Ashe.

    Comment by hp military discounts on March 9, 2017 at 5:53 PM

Leave a Reply

This article is written by on February 12th 2016.

You can connect with in Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.