Self-organizing teams is a trend now on the world. Companies here and there have realized the power of improving teamwork, collaboration and accountability among their people. But just by empowering the employees, it doesn’t mean we can have a successful self-organizing team. This requires changes on leadership and management, on employees’ mindset, and, therefore, on the company culture.
One can be tempted to think that in this new order leadership and management (by the way, the two things are not the same and both are necessary) are no longer needed. Nothing further from reality.
Collaboration, autonomy and making collective decisions are important for the team, but this hive mind won’t work without a leader.
Team members need also feel part (develop a sense of belonging), work towards a vision (be inspired) and be recognized to contribute at their highest point. They need also have clear limits within which they can be autonomous.
A leader outside the team must provide the right context, so the team can thrive; the challenge is to balance autonomy with alignment. And a leader within the team is also needed to provide the required room for everyone to contribute, learn and fail while promoting, at the same time, that collective mind spirit. And this new paradigm requires a change of mindset for both leaders and team members.
Lead with context, not control
This change of mindset leads me to think about something I read in the book ‘No rules rules’ by Erin Meyer: leaders won’t make the decision, but they set broad context to help align the thinking with the company’s strategy. That context lays the foundation for coming decisions.
Key issue for many leaders in adapting to this new self-organizing teams’ culture is the need for control.
Many people think that controlling is necessary to effectively achieve the business goals. And even if you are not a control freak, there are some requirements people should meet for you to give your control away. When we feel out of control, we usually experience an uncomfortable tension due to the uncertainty about results.
This uncertainty dramatically falls down when you trust in your people’s abilities. Moreover, you need to work on developing your people’s talent to improve both trust and results. To give power away, and being comfortable in the process, you need to promote a culture of excellence.
With the freedom of being autonomous should go the responsibility about the decisions and, therefore, the consequences. Fair play is that your people have always all the information about the context to make the right decisions. Becoming more transparent is next challenge when we talk about leading with context.
How many times you don’t give all the information to your teams just because ‘it is something only for top managers’? How could they be autonomous and self-organized if they don’t have the right context?
Jointly with promoting a culture of excellence, we should promote a culture of transparency being crystal clear about what behaviours we expect from the people. At the same, information must flow.
The power inherent to leaders will no longer sit on having classified information but in developing the right culture so every can collaborate at their best.
Self-organizing teams require the same: promoting a culture with the best people, making room for freedom and accountability and providing the right context with the information required to excel.