Monday, January 18, 2016

Unlock the Power of Self-Forming Teams

A collaboration by Chris LeBlanc and Mario Moreira

It is quite possible that many teams in your organization are going through the motions of Scrum.  Per the Tuckman model, they are in the Norming phase of team group development, but are hard-pressed to break into the Performing phase.  This may be due to the team feeling a lack of empowerment and what it means to be Agile beyond the mechanics.  We are going to share a technique that can help bring your Agile organization to the next level, increase employee engagement and help make your engineers high performing and happier. This technique is relevant when you have a squad of 14 or more people who need to form into 2 or more teams.  

The common scenario in team formation is where a manager (or those who do not do the work) decides the team structure.  Managers have external knowledge of who may work well together and what skills they possess.  This is an educated guess at best.  Might we consider another approach?

By embracing the concepts of self-organizing teams and bounded authority, we ask those who actually do the work, the team members, to use their team internal knowledge of who they work best with and how their skills are able to complement the members of their team.  The result can be happy, high performing cross-functional teams composed of engineers that that want to work with each other.  For those experienced with the process of self-organizing teams, might it best start with the ability to self-form? 

May we introduce the Self-forming Teams starter kit!  This is a technique used to help engineers self-organize toward an engaged and effective team based on their current skill sets.  There are few steps that need to be completed by the leaders before you begin:

Create a vision of the work ahead.  This will give the engineers the information they need to understand who is best to work with based on their current skill set.

Set up bounded authority for the exercise.  The leaders can provide their bounded authority guidance on a few inputs to the exercise: mix of senior and junior team members and buy-in to this process.Everyone follows the bounded authority of the Scrum process as input: team size (7+/-), cross-functional skills (Dev+ QA)

An Agile Coach or facilitator to help guide the team toward their self-forming goals

Once the bounded authority and the vision are established, the Agile Coach or facilitator is ready to begin.  Here are steps to follow. Again, this is relevant when you have 14 or more people who need to form into multiple teams. 
  • Kickoff the session with sharing the self-forming goals with everyone. They include: Well-balanced teams who can successfully and efficiently complete any item in the backlog;  Long-term teams and can autonomously deliver value as fast as possible; Teams that understand skills needed on each squad and a learning path for the short term; Team members like the team they are on and the work they are doing
  • Conduct a connection Ice Breaker to lighten the mood of the session
  • Describe the definition of self-organization
  • Introduce the Product Owner and Architect to discuss the vision and any backlog input
  • Conduct a divergent conversation with everyone.  Ask “What skills will be needed to tackle the presented work from the backlog?”  Write down each skill given by the engineers.
  • Follow this with a convergent conversation that draws affinities between the skills to generate a list of Macros Skills each team would need (5-7 is a good number)
  • Ask each engineer to walk to the board and mark off each skill they currently have and each skill they want.
  • Now start the self-formation process.  Ask the engineers to self-form into teams, using bounded authority and the Macro Skills that were generated as guidance.  As the facilitator, move the conversation along when they become stuck.
  • Finally, nobody leaves the room unless everyone is happy with the team they are on.  Ask for a Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down vote from the group.  If there are any thumbs down, explore the reason and adjust the teams accordingly.

What we have seen to be true of self-forming teams is that knowledge workers who choose their own team structure are more invested in owning the health of the team.  When something is not working on the team, they are more likely to improve it. They are excited and happy to be on that team.  Healthy, happy people create high performing teams that build high quality products quicker.  Unlock the potential (and untapped power) of your teams and extend your ability to self-organize with self-forming teams.

To read more of Mario Moreira's articles, visit:
To read more about Chris LeBlanc, visit: 


  1. Really good idea. Though, it is not something that every team is ready for.

    I heard some case studies, where organisations tried that and it fell flat on its face. Teams were too confused and looked for external guidance.

    I would love to hear more about actual field reports how it worked.

  2. Yes Vasilij, it is an advanced practice that requires the team and those around the team to have embraced the Agile mindset. It requires people who have been on teams who have handled self-organization well. It also requires an exploration of bounded authority since boundaries will need to be expanded to make this work. There is a readiness and it has to be methodically approached (and daily morning or late afternoon retros).

  3. Thanks for sharing a valuable information.All is very fascinating to learn and simple to grasp. Thanks for sharing such great info. Keep Post These kinds of Articles in the future.
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