Jurgen Appelo recently posted his slides from the Scrum Gathering in Orlando entitled “The Dolt’s Guide To Self-Organization”. I didn’t attend the conference, but in flipping through the slide deck, I was impressed by how much the concept of “self organizing teams” is a much better way to view the creation of a “Strong Team” as I tried to outline in a previous blog post .
I tried to capture in that previous post of mine a “hands off-ish” management style that fosters team members to step up and gravitate towards work they are interested in with the manager or team lead ensuring all the prioritized tasks needed are being handled by someone versus a more structured or top down task assignment approach. Jurgen takes a different slant on a similar management style. He starts with making the case that nature itself is self organizing rather than marching forward under the direction of a leader. To further highlight this perspective, consider your first school dance or formal social gathering you attended. Without activities directed by the school leadership, children tended to naturally separate into gender aligned groups. Boys would be on one side of the gymnasium with girls on the other. Then, within the gender groups, sub groups would form to further self organize along the common interests of sports, video games, comic books or other like enthusiasts.
In his presentation, Appelo suggests that “management” is not a direct natural extension of self organization, but exists none the less as a necessity. Continuing the analogy above, the school dance needs chaperones. How the chaperones interact or “manage” the students directly relates to how much fun the students have at the dance. Mapping to managing an IT team or organization, how much micro versus macro management occurs relates to how much engagement and over all “value” is produced by the team or organization. A high degree of micromanagement results in a low level of empowerment and thus a lower “value” produced by the team as a whole. Flipping back to the School dance, if the chaperones are directing each student on what to do when on a seemingly constant basis, the kids in attendance are going to derive less fun or “value” from attending the dance. Where as, if the chaperones are engaged in the dance event but allow the attendees the ability to interact on their own terms and only stepping in when a situation is trending negative (kids harassing or taunting others, kids on the verge of breaking out into a fight, etc.), the kids are in a better position to enjoy the dance. The manger that is trying to constantly direct the team on a granular basis is going to reflect the over controlling chaperones at a school dance. To sum up this notion of self-organization and how it fosters the empowerment to value equation, I discovered this quote from Majlinda Priku:
“People who actively participate in the workplace see greater skill development, and gain a greater understanding of which techniques are effective and which ones are not. They also have a greater opportunity to come up with creative solutions to problems, and novel ways to improve performance. The power to utilize their creativity and knowledge leads to expertise. People who are able to independently evaluate and implement projects have a sense of ownership that makes them committed to the project’s success.” – Majlinda Priku, June 1, 2009, http://www.articlesbase.com/leadership-articles/employee-empowerment-947535.html
Okay, so empowering employees through delegation to have more latitude to implement solutions to assignments sounds great, so how do you measure the level of empowerment and delegation currently in place within your team today to see where you stand?
Appelo has come up with an interesting way to represent this measurement as a sliding scale on slide 58:
Manager with authority in empowerment
Tell: make decision as the manager
Sell: convince people about decision
Consult: get input from team before decision
Join: make decision together with team
Advise: influence decision made by the team
Confirm: ask feedback after decision by team
Delegate: no influence, let team work it out
Employees with authority in empowerment
With “Tell” being the manager having the authority with little employee empowerment and “Delegate” being the employees having more authority and considerable empowerment.
I find this scalar approach to be extremely helpful as a way to reflect on recent decisions to measure the level of empowerment in place. As an example, when I reflect on a high level of selling involved in getting a decision implemented, I wonder how I could have provided more information or context to the situation in order to move up the scale towards more employee “no brainer” decision acceptance. I also find myself throughout the day moving up and down the scale for each unique situation that occurs. By setting the goal of trying to be more closely aligned with the employees with authority in empowerment side of the scale in most situations, one can begin to determine where, on average, your team’s level of empowerment and delegation is at. If you find yourself frequently telling or selling decisions, take a step back and try to determine what are the barriers to moving up the scale and take steps to change your approach to see if you can indeed move up the scale. Take note of the techniques you employ that move towards employee empowerment. You may find a pattern that the trend is positive for your team or a particular individual that you can continue to leverage going forward.
In summary, I find Appelo’s self organizing teams to indeed be a more natural way to capture how IT professionals work. Keeping with that model, employee empowerment and delegation are a great way to look at how to build a strong team. The authority in empowerment scale is a good tool to help measure the level of effective employee delegation that is taking place within your team. By using the scale, one can identify where one finds oneself telling or selling. This further enables one to try different approaches in future similar situations to see if one can move from telling and selling to advising, confirming and true delegation.