5 steps to Self-Organization – The Story of a Journey

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

Agile Principle

In the “Age of RE” – reorganization, recreation, rebuilding, redesign – we need to go back to the roots and start new again, while accommodating the changing needs of the time. We shape the behavior of the customer with every line of code aimed to bring value. Digitalization brings forth bitcoins, robots, learning algorithms, e-bots, but behind everything is the human. According to Modern Agile, the main engine to success is to make people awesome.

If you want to achieve good things you need a good team, but if you want amazing results you need to aim for a self-organized team. Self-management asks people to take individual responsibility and initiative while at the same time working together as a team.

I am a Scrum Master/Team Coach working for Digital Innovation Partners and my ultimate goal is to help the teams deliver to its best, while learning to become self-organizing. Following this goal, I learned many useful things during my Agile journey, things that helped me grow people and myself on the way. Because sharing is caring, I would like to share with you what I learned across time, while aiming for self-organization.

This is not a blueprint nor a general truth, it represents my observations during the last four years of interaction with Agile Teams. These 5 aspects play a role in the team evolution, for some teams are more important, for other teams less, people need to inspect and adapt to what fits them.

Team Time

Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean

Ryunosuke Satoro

The Team personal time is the POWER ingredient that builds the team together, while creating a collective emotional intelligence. People that resonate with each other, that find their common hobbies and share their values and their weaknesses, while asking for help.

How do your friends call you? was a question from one team member and we all understood we are moving to another level, a deeper one that allows us to create a safe environment for unsafe behavior. You cannot fight an impediment you do not know, however if you have openness in the team and people are approachable, this will never slow the team down.

As a Scrum Master/Team Coach we need to get people connected, understand what drives them, synchronize skills and passions. Useful Tools are Get To Know Each Other Sessions, Agile Game Based Learning, Pair Programming, Mob Programming, cross reviews, team events, cooking together, etc.

One important thing that helped one team to get closer to each other was the 4th question in the Daily – How do you feel? We learned about ourselves and what makes us happy or sad and build a collective emotional power that lead to increased collaboration.

A team that is personally strongly bound will most likely become self-organized and move fast towards delivery.

Team self-selection concept raised by the Australian author Sandy Mamoli[1] is a great way to build a team with matching personalities and speeds up the forming of the team process.


Let it come. Let it go. Let it flow


The FLOW is everything to a self-organized team. We first recognize it in the communication, as the Team has a smooth communication from Business to Designers, to Developers to Stakeholders to Customers. Without interruption, the Team ensures information moves from one group to another and there is no constrain in between.

The coach can ensure this continuous flow through Team Agreements (Team rules, DoR, DoD), keeping everything transparent. Normally the so called “communication issues” are simple bottlenecks for which the Team knows the solution itself.

Second, the FLOW emerges from Communication to TASKS. Everybody knows what they have to do, as long as they have agreed to a common GOAL. In a Scrum environment one does a thing, teaches a second and learns a third in order to keep the Flow going and reach their goals. One’s transparency and accountability motivate each other to move the tasks from inventory to delivery. To achieve that the Team needs to understand the principles of GOALS setting, respect the agreements and act with consciousness.

Third, Documentation is an important outcome of the Flow that enables the Team to keep the Backbone of the Project solid and ensure flexibility and recovery when surprises happen, as well as ensuring a smooth and efficient onboarding for the new members, without overloading the old ones and disturbing the Force J. Documentation Process is being discussed while forming the Team and integrated into the Team agreements, ensuring it becomes a habit, but a living one.

Rules and structure

I love rules and I love following them, unless that rule is stupid

Anna Kendrick

Scrum is the most common used framework that matches the 12 Agile principles building habits and repeating the structure over and over again. The sprint loop allows the teams to get used to the structure and the Scrum Master to guide the team while understanding the reasons and benefits behind.

To reach self-organization you need discipline, as well as flexibility. You need to understand that one format doesn’t fit everyone, so you need to balance between the Scrum rules and the team’s uniqueness. If this balance is achieved fast, this will speed up the self-organization process. 

For this we come back again to team agreements, where we capture how we behave with one another and how we want to work.

A good team will follow the Scrum Methodology, a great team will create its own Scrum model that fits the people in the team, while respecting the Agile Principles.


Control leads to compliance, autonomy leads to engagement

Daniel Pink

Autonomy is the freedom to decide how to achieve the desired outcomes. This is one great thing about Scrum that empowers POs and team members. You do not have a leader in the team, rather you have a team of leaders who take ownership and responsibility, who look into the customer needs and propose the best technical solution while working together as a team on it.

While bringing Back End, Front End, Design, Testing together, you make sure you do not ‘throw anything over the wall’ and there is an agreed logic in everything.

Having the power to decide and seeing their ideas coming to life in the customer solution drives people and energizes them for more delivery.


Time is money

Benjamin Franklin

In order to become a self-organized team, you definitely need time, otherwise this cannot be achieved in a short run. You need time to build habits, get people accommodate with each other, experiment structures and build the flow. There will be ups and downs, learnings about ourselves as a team, as well as individuals. In coaching one needs to start small, step by step, to then move to other topics in order to improve.

You need time to reflect back, to acknowledge and make room for change. The biggest challenge is however to balance the time with the speed of delivery, in order to achieve “twice the work in half the time”!

To capture the evolution of the team and its journey towards self-organization, a Scrum Master/team coach could keep a Status Quo paper, describing the starting point of the team or agree on metrics to measure team performance over time.

Many thanks to the ZEISS Digital Customer Companion Team members for the passion, drive and power to deliver amazing products to life!

[1] https://www.infoq.com/presentations/self-selection-teams/

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