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Self-Organizing Rewards

3 September 2013

The Agile Manifesto says that the best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. The Scrum Guide says that self-organizing teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team. But how about letting the team self-organize to reward itself?
From a Unity of Knowing and Doing perspective, you know yourself the most, you are good at how to reward yourself, and the self-organizing process unites "why reward" and "how to reward." These are self-organizing rewards.

In the self-organizing rewards process, the manager builds the stage and sets the constraints.
  • The manager can decide what kinds of rewards should be self-organized.
  • The manager needs to effectively communicate with the team the organization's objectives, its core values and principles, and the expected behaviors of the team and individuals. The manager can join the team's exercise of self-organizing rewards to make sure organizational objectives and values are followed. This is the manager's Unity of Knowing and Doing in this process.
  • The manager needs to invest to build a culture of openness, trust, and transparency. Without trust and transparency, the self-organizing reward system won't work. Cultural change is not easy. The manager can start with promoting good and right practices used by the team within the self-organizing rewards and any other self-organizing activities.
How do you reward yourself?
  • This helps link organizational objectives to your personal objectives. If you know that you have the power to reward yourself, and that the reward should be aligned with organizational objectives, you will transfer the organizational objectives to your own objectives. You think of yourself as the boss. Honesty is the basis of self-rewarding in an organization. What if you're not honest? You will risk losing credit in your team, as the self-organizing reward system is actually a team exercise.
  • It helps you to internalize good behaviors. With ownership of the rewarding system, you will internalize what behaviors should be rewarded.
  • Rewards coming from the boss can easily be mistakes, either because the reward's content/form is not what you want, or the way of rewarding isn't what you like. You yourself know better what/when/how you want a reward.
  • Self-rewarding is about self-motivation, which is the best motivation.
  • You can control how to reward yourself, and you will make an effort to prepare for the future. This is about learning and continuous improvement. This is what an organization wants.
How to organize this as a team exercise?
  • Self-organizing rewards should cultivate common good and collaboration. The team needs to make an effort to establish three things: (1) The reward system assists team objectives, so it should protect rather than destroy team objectives. (2) Individuals have different performances and therefore their rewards can be different. (3) Discussions and consensus work better than simply voting on deciding the rules of self-organizing rewards. This system will not be 100 percent fair, but it's much better than top-down rewarding. Another benefit is that it encourages the good side of humanity, which I believe is the nature of human being.
  • The process and rules are formed from the bottom up. They respect everyone's ideas.
  • This system is about distributed power; everyone can influence it.
  • The rewards are from peers and are public. It's about teamwork and transparency.
The rewards can come in various forms.
  • They can be team and organizational activities such as team building events, outings, parties. A teaming activity is an important basis of Agile.
  • They can be used to celebrate holiday and engage family. Without celebration, life is a series of Wednesdays, which is not good for the sustainable pace of the development team. Family should be included in the reward system, as they provide support.
  • They can be used to celebrate team achievements and enforce the feeling of accomplishment.
  • In addition, we can also have a "star" team or employees who can be identified per sprint and per year.
  • Bonuses can also be in the self-organizing rewards system. An organization can try this out gradually.
In a summary, the manager decides how much to reward. The team decides why/what/who/when/where/how to reward. The "why" to reward is knowing. The "how" to reward is doing. The team self-organizes to unite the knowing and doing.

Join a trial of self-organizing rewards and see what can happen.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 5 (2 ratings)


Julien Mazloum, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 10/12/2013 12:23:24 AM
Self-organizing rewards is a powerful internal way to help to change unwanted behaviour/habits of team members from within the team.
It helps greatly team empowerment.
I like it very much and I have to admit this is a practice I really did not see enough!

Sometimes the reward is very simply to avoid to do annoying work and it is key that a team becomes good at "sharing the pain".
Example: A team I coached was under intense delivery pressure (nothing new but at that time they really thought the project was temporary so it added to it) and had many manual maintenance tasks that needed to be done every day. The team decided to first make sure that everybody shares the pain and all the team members rotated to executing those tasks for a week each and then agreed that it was not sustainable and all the team (with PO approval) participated in the necessary effort to automate those task (was not particularly easy in that case and that is why they really needed to share the pain first, it used to be the same person doing that terrible job!).

This is not to say that removing a pain is enough and we do not need other rewards but simply to say that "sharing the pain" is very important too and, in my opinion, completes and reinforces the self-organizing rewards.

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