We know that self-organization is a critical aspect of every successful Agile project; we also know that it’s based on trust, respect, openness and responsibility. So, why so many teams have such a hard time to fully achieve it?
One reason is that self-organization changes the leader/team dynamics and the teammate/teammate ones. Resistance to this change may arise in different ways and the source is frequently rooted in mental models, such as: a latent blaming culture; confusing guidance and command; fear of taking responsibility or losing status; unconscious agendas; and, in general, not sharing the same goal.
Another reason is that self-organization requires that leaders think about the team and about the development process in a culturally different way, compared to the industrial (a.k.a. Waterfall) approach that the IT industry has been practicing for so long.
The industrial approach requires that things happen in a linear, predictable and standardized way, but this thinking is largely inadequate for the products we create, for the way we create them and for the complexity that we find in many software development projects. Effective self-organization becomes, then, a step forward in a better direction.
In software development, people are interconnected not just by means of their institutional roles but also by interactional and influential relationships, which all together create a web of very articulate dynamics.
For self-organization to really happen and manifest, these dynamics need to be clear and, also, we need to understand those factors that may block the interaction and commitment of the people participating in the project.
I started giving this workshop a few years ago and it gradually changed from a frontal presentation to a highly interactive group work, with the intent of showing people first-hand how self-organization can actually be supported and put into practice.
The oxymoron in the title intentionally hints at the elusive nature of self-organization. This is why this workshop is based on hands-on practice, to let anyone in a leading position experience directly their influence on the team's ability to exercise their collective intelligence.
Process / mechanics
This workshop is designed to let attendees have a direct experience of self-organization, so there is very little frontal lecturing, in a "teaching from the back of the room" style. However, we start with a group discussion to define what we mean by self-organization, then we proceed with letting the key topics (such as openness, trust, shared goal) to emerge from the group and we explore the main ones with the guidance of the speaker (acting in this case in a coaching role)