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How to Build a Self-Organizing Team

A theoretical model

8 April 2015

Takuo Doi
Level Five Co., Ltd.

As discussed in the Agile Manifesto, building a self-organizing team is one of the fundamentals of Agile software development.

However, there is no theoretical model for building a self-organizing team.

I believe that the progress of individual members and the progress of teams as a whole are different. Given this, I have built separate models of the progress of team members and of teams.

Team members

I think the self-organization process of members consists of the following steps:
  1. Puppets: Those who do not follow their own thoughts and only obey someone else's order.
  2. Motivated people: Those who have found their own will.
  3. Collectors: Those who try to input information to realize their will.
  4. Influencers: Those who try to spread their ideas to change their environment.
  5. "Emergents": Persons who stimulate the other team members and are stimulated by them.


I think the self-organization process of teams consists of the following steps:
  1. Chaos: There are team members, but they do not collaborate well.
  2. Top-down: One of the members (a leader) manages the other members. Only the leader has responsibility.
  3. Interdependent: The members share responsibilities.
  4. Collective: The members share responsibilities and the goals.
  5. Self-organizing: The members share responsibilities and the goals, and they have the authority to achieve the goal.
I believe these processes are different but not independent.

It's helpful to analyze the current status of the self-organization of a team from these points of view, using the Self-Organization Process Graph below:

The horizontal axis represents steps of the majority of team members. The vertical axis represents steps of teams. Furthermore, I believe there is a wall that prevents the progress of the team according to the steps of the majority of members, as shown by the dotted line.

Take a look at the Puppet-Chaos team, which is the P-Ch area in the following graph:

Most of the members are at the Puppet level, and the status of the team is Chaos.

It's difficult to change the status of the team from P-Ch to P-Co (Puppet-Collective), since the members in the Puppet step don't truly share responsibilities and goals.

I think it is possible to change the status of the team from P-Ch to C-T (Collector-Top-Down). For example, if the manager encourages and supports the members and they grow in their knowledge and responsibilities, the majority of the members will shift to the right. After that, the team may reach the Top-Down state by assigning a leader.

The graph has two benefits, as shown in the example. First of all, the graph helps us to see the current state of the team versus its target state. Then the graph enables us to distinguish the changes of the members from the changes of the teams.

Thus I believe we can easily develop plans to build self-organizing teams if we base those plans on the true state of our own teams, by using this graph.

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: 3.5 (6 ratings)


Rohan Bhokardankar, CSP,CSM, 4/8/2015 12:33:43 PM
Good perspective.

Theoraticaly, seems to be a good visualization, to understand where to go.

I also feel that organization culture, executive commitment towards Agility, location of team members and the type of projects have a big role in fostering the self - organization.

Takuo Doi, CSP,CSD,CSM,CSPO, 4/9/2015 11:20:32 PM
Thank you for your comment.
I agree on your points. I believe this model help us to consider the way to build self-organization teams on the basis of the organization cultures and so on.
Manikandan Raman, CSP,CSM, 4/13/2015 7:46:20 AM
Very Nice Article, especially the Graphical representation of the state of teams is good.

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