How the wrong question can nip self-organization in the bud

Think about yourself as the Scrum Master of a development team. Think about the last time you coached somebody on your team. They came to you with a problem or an impediment. You did the right thing and you took the coaching stance, you didn’t advise them, but only asked questions as to coach them to a solution they would come up with on their own.

Now think of those questions… were your questions leading or not? Were you really asking an open coaching question, letting all your own ideas and view of the world behind? Or were you in fact just disguising a solution inside your question hoping the other person would somehow pick up the advice and work from there?

Don’t feel bad if you did. One so easily falls into that trap. But now that you are aware of it start restraining yourself. Because every time we use leading questions, we keep people, we keep our teams just that little step away from become just that little bit more self-organized and we keep them away from getting just that little bit closer at excelling.

Once we understand that even a small leading question is a way of control that can nip self-organization in the bud, we’ll be ready to let go and that smallest step will lead us to become better coaches, better Scrum Masters and better change agents towards the organization.

The Scrum Masters’ responsibilities lie in supporting the Development team, the Product Owner and the Organisation as a whole. To do so knowledge of what is being Agile and what is Scrum is a must. He supports and brings change through coaching and facilitation and this with a servant or catalyst leadership attitude.

Scrum Master responsabilities
Scrum Master responsabilities

So indeed, one of the things the Scrum Master is supposed to do is help the Development team become self-organized.

For a development team, to have self-organization means taking responsibility and choosing HOW to accomplish and manage their own work without relying on anybody to manage them.

It has been proven that the people closest to the work know best what to do and given the right team conditions and the right work environment they will deliver the best quality results at the highest speed.

The right team conditions

The best conditions for teams to be self-organized are the following:

  • The team should be cross functional in skills, abilities and knowledge. the Scrum Master can work with the Development team to build a skill, abilities and knowledge matrix, searching for gaps and opportunities for growth towards the right competencies so that the team might be in the ability to finish work independently.
  • The development team should be small, from three to nine people, to allow for optimal communication and collaboration.
  • Longstanding teams gain a higher performance over time. In fact changes in teams amongst others caused by decisions in the organization are one of the biggest challenges facing self organizing teams.

The Scrum Master should be the change agent in the organisation to create these different team conditions for self organizing teams to exist.

If you are lucky enough, your organization will be ready to make an overall change. Or maybe you could start small with a pilot? Or maybe you are working from the trenches? Either way, you will probably not have the perfect cross-functional, small, longstanding team from the start, it will be a continuous work to create the support and mold the right conditions.

Self-organization Scrum
Self-organization of a development team

The right work environment

And then there is the right work environment. This is an environment where the team is not told what to do.

  • As nobody is telling the team members what to do, the development team will have to come up with and try things themselves. They might fail and so they will learn and have to search for a new approach starting a loop of continuous adjustments. Environments in which teams are trusted to learn from failure are environments set up for constant learning, experimenting and ultimately for innovation and excellence.
  • Having the ownership of the approach, adjustments, and the results, will motivate the team and make them more focused and interested and committed to the work, eventually leading to higher morale and with-it higher productivity. The Scrum Master must make sure that the Development team is empowered to manage their own work (the HOW).

The Scrum Master is responsible to abolish a command and control culture and to grow the ultimate learning organization. Needless to say, that this cultural change will not be established overnight and that the Scrum Master should set the example by understanding to the fullest the impact of their own behavior. 

How the wrong question can nip self-organization in the bud

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