Disciplined Agile

Guideline: Create Semi-Autonomous, Self-Organizing Teams

Organizations are complex adaptive systems (CAS) made up of a network of teams or, if you will, a team of teams. Although mainstream agile implores us to create “whole teams” that have the skills and resources required to achieve the outcomes that they’ve been tasked with, the reality is that no team is an island unto itself. Autonomous teams would be ideal, but there are always dependencies on other teams upstream that we are part of, as well as downstream from us. And, of course, there are dependencies between offerings (products or services) that necessitate the teams responsible for them to collaborate. This network-of-teams organizational structure is being recommended by Stephen Denning in his Law of the Network (The Age of Agile, 2018), Mik Kersten in his recommendation to shift from project to product teams (Project to Product, 2018), John Kotter in Accelerate (2014), Stanley McChrystal in his team-of-teams strategy (2015), and many others.

Teams will proactively collaborate with other teams on a regular basis, one of the promises of the DA mindset. Awesome teams are as whole as possible—they are cross-functional; have the skills, resources, and authority required to be successful; and team members themselves tend to be cross-functional generalizing specialists. Furthermore, they are organized around the products/services offered by the value stream they are part of. Interestingly, when we have teams dedicated to business stakeholders, budgeting becomes much simpler because we just need to budget for the people aligned with each product/service.

Creating semi-autonomous teams is a great start, but self-organization within the context of the value stream is also something to attend to. Teams will be self-organizing, but they must do so within the context of the overall workflow that they are part of. Remember the principles of optimize flow and enterprise awareness, in that teams must strive to do what’s right for the overall organization, not just what is convenient for them. When other teams also work in such a way, we are all much better for it.