I’ve been getting more and more questions similar to “Are managers (scrum master, functional manager, team lead, project manager, etc) needed with self-organizing teams?”.  Before I can dive into this question, I decided to break this up into a couple of posts.  First: let’s make sure we mean the same thing when we say self-organizing team.

Disclaimer: This is my way of defining the differences for several years now.  The label is not the important part. I care about the differences between as this impacts what you get in terms of results and what as a leader you should be doing to help.  So if you call something by a different name but the definition aligns…ok.  And yes, this is a simplified version for a short blog post. 









  • Individuals: When you first form people together, they are bringing their own strengths and weaknesses.  They are concerned with aspects such as “will I do a good job?”, “will I enjoy working with these people?”, etc.  This is the land of me me me.
  • Group: Often fairly easily and quickly (although if conflict is not healthy – they will go back to Individual state), people will start helping others as long as their part is completed.  This often sounds like “I’ll happily help you with what YOU need to do, once mine is done”.  Generally, I refer to this state as the relay race team:  we win or lose together, but everyone clearly knows who did well and who didn’t.  Now here is the catch, a group can produce results.  If you have task based work (complicated known work that needs to be only coordinated with minimal dependencies), a group cooperating is fantastic and all you really need as a leader.
  • Team: If a group cooperates together, a team collaborates together.  What’s the difference:  collaboration is “our part” not “your part, my part”.  The result of collaboration means delivery with innovation, quality, etc.  So if you have complex unknown work that needs to be discovered, you need at least a team.  This sounds great, so now here is the catch, a team’s results can only scale to what the leader can scale. Often in a team, the leader is the hub and struggling with things such as unable to take a day off, frustration that no one seems to be as invested as they are, wishing they could clone their superstar, etc.  For many years, I excelled at getting to team and not realizing that there was something more (hence the reason I now co-train the Leading Amazing teams course).
  • Self-Organizing Team: A collaborating team that has shared ownership: of the satisfaction of the results, of how the work is completed, and of each other’s growth.  Yep, all the aspects that made leader’s of teams go above and beyond, now the team feels this too.  This results in high performance:  innovation, quality, etc that you didn’t even think was achievable.  Now this is not an end state with a check mark you are now self-organizing, this is a relationship that requires continuous work because what makes you high performing today is only standard tomorrow.

Now there are other states: self-managing, self-directed, etc. However, I’ve learned to focus on helping people get to self-organizing before they worry about what else is possible.

I know this leaves you with a teaser for next week – if the leader is often the challenge in moving from team to self-organizing team, does this mean that leaders are no longer needed?  Ok…I’ll give the short answer…of course not but I’ll explain more next week.

Where are you (individuals, group, team, self-organizing team)?

Tricia Broderick

Tricia Broderick

Tricia Broderick is a leadership and organizational advisor. Her transformational leadership at all levels of an organization, ignites growth of leaders and high performing teams to deliver quality outcomes. Tricia has more than twenty years of experience in the software development industry. She is a highly-rated trainer, coach, facilitator and motivational keynote speaker. Beyond her extensive knowledge and skills, her biggest offering is inspiring people to believe anything is possible.

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