Prepare to Empower

Drawing of a weightlifterContents


The rest of this “Self-Directed agile” chapter of the website takes you through the process of creating or converting to a self-directed work team. By definition, an SDWT takes on the functions required to operate the team that a team leader or manager formerly performed. Though this may seem like an extra burden at first, in time this transfer of responsibility will help your team by giving you more control over your daily lives and improving your group decision-making.

The majority of studies have shown that fully empowered teams are much more effective than standard work groups. For example, a study of 111 work teams in four companies found, “More empowered teams were… more productive and proactive than less empowered teams and had higher levels of customer service, job satisfaction, and organizational and team commitment” (Kirkman & Rosen 1999). But to succeed, they must have the information, authority, training, and other resources needed to accomplish those tasks. The steps described in the rest of this chapter create the “constitution” for your team, a necessary ingredient in any self-governing body, from a work group to a nation!

This section assumes there is one change leader driving, or asked to facilitate, the change process. This can be anyone initially, including the team’s manager. But if that is (you are) the manager, be prepared to drop out at a certain point where marked in the text. After all, the team can’t become self-managing if the manager is there! From that point on, team members can facilitate the effort.

Subsections link to specific step sets for doing what I describe. Those steps refer to whoever the facilitator is at that time. For example, the one in the next subsection will be done by the initial change leader prior to beginning the conversion process.

Gain Buy-in

As with every other part of the Full Scale agile approach—perhaps even more so, given you are supposed to be empowering the team—it is important to gain buy-in from the team for this effort. Read the “Sources of Resistance and Failure” section of the Agile transformation process to understand why.

I suggest you put together a presentation that highlights the reasons for making the switch to agility and self-direction. Start with the problems you know the team or larger organization wants to solve. Then get answers as to why agility will probably solve them. Without knowing your specific issues, it is difficult to know what arguments on this site will work best. Here are some pages and specific parts:

Then in a team meeting, give the presentation and also walk them through the rest of this chapter so they know would what they would be doing. Each section justifies the action described.

⇒ Steps: Gain Buy-In

Gather Information

A primary cause of conflict or indecision within teams is a lack of information. Sometimes members let themselves argue over issues when a little research would turn up answers. Other times members try to make final decisions before critical information exists (instead of simply keeping their options open). Reduce the odds of these problems arising during the conversion process by gathering relevant information before you start, detailed in the steps linked below.

While you are doing that, get the current team leader or manager to read the next section and complete the “Administrative Tasks Checklist.” You will need that before starting the team transformation (the section after that one).

⇒ Steps: Gather Information

Turn Over Administration

Silhouette of a hand dropping keys into another person's handThe change in role for a manager of a self-directed team can be summed up in this phrase: from boss to supplier. Instead of managing human resources, you provide the resources those humans need to get their jobs done. When the team has matured, you will be leading from behind—not giving orders, but pointing people toward customer needs, giving them their boundaries, and getting out of the way. You may have heard this called the “inverted pyramid.” This means you must learn to put the team’s priorities ahead of your own, which is not always easy to do.

Bear in mind that you can, and to a degree should, begin using these tactics as soon as the training begins. But the descriptions refer to your relationship a year later. Move in this direction slowly.

A key to team success is empowerment—that is, giving the team as much control over its activities as possible. Of course, this is also a major advantage for you: Every task the team can take over for you means that much more time you can spend on the higher-level parts of your job. Though it may not sound right that a team’s productivity can go up when you give it more tasks, both science and workplace experience show it can. The reasons are not yet clearly understood by researchers. I believe it has to do with more efficient outcomes from having the people most affected by the decision make the decision, which raises both decision quality and reaction time.

Please download the “Administrative Tasks Checklist.” It is a list of tasks you or other people probably handle for the team now. Use it as a tool for determining which of these tasks you can turn over to the team under your corporate policies, and when you wish to do so. Where you have to keep a task—or at least appear to—think of ways to work around that policy. For example, you might be required to write performance appraisals, but maybe you can include team performance measures in each team member’s appraisal.

The form lets you designate, task by task, whether you would like to see the team:

  • Take it over immediately;
  • Take it over within six months;
  • Take it over within a year;
  • Never take it over completely, meaning you or someone else are required by your company to keep doing it; or
  • Determine with you whether it needs to be done at all, and if so, who should do it.

In general, the more complex a task and more training required to do it, the later it should be turned over to the team. That said, turn over as many of these tasks over as possible.

⇒ Steps: Turn Over Administration

Schedule First Session

After you (the trainer facilitating these steps) have the Administrative Task List and other materials, schedule the first session of the team’s transformation effort. It is vital that you set it at time when everyone is available, and stress in the invitation that everyone must attend for the effort to succeed. If a lot of people decline or cancel at the last moment, reschedule until you get full attendance.

You will start the steps for the remaining sections of this chapter in that meeting. That will go better if you take advantage of the huge amount of research that has been done about facilitating meetings.

Self-Directed agile | ← Agility before “Agile” | → Meeting Facilitation

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