Agility with a small “a”: Teams organize themselves

People are always asking me whether there is a maximum size for companies beyond which they can no longer operate structurally in an agile manner. Unfortunately I can’t give a straight answer to that question, because the way a company is organized depends on a swath of internal and external factors: what the organizational structure was like before, delineation of task areas, employee deployment, culture, external influences and so on.

 

And there is another factor that is decisive: It’s not about a total redraft of the whole organizational chart, here. Agile structures can be tested in microcosm: I mean, within single teams. The good thing about this is, that the team themselves will know best which team structure is best for them. That is why at Haufe-umantis, our teams decide themselves on the organizational structure of their team. Hitherto, we have offered teams three different options:

 

1. Team leader calls the shots

The team chooses a leader who takes charge of operational issues and who is mainly accountable for the success of the project. If appropriate, decisions are taken democratically by the team. Otherwise, the team leader holds decision-making powers. 

 

2. Project organized by scrum

Organization by scrum rules is already widely practiced in most digital companies. Teams who organize themselves according to scrum rules choose a product owner and a scrum master and stay together as a team for three months, working towards jointly set goals. These three months are broken down into so-called sprints, each of which last two weeks.
Before each sprint the product owner draws up a list of what they consider are the most important tasks and the team members freely assign themselves to these tasks. After two weeks there is a review at which the team members realign deployment as necessary. In order to ensure as smooth a workflow as possible during this time window, challenges are discussed every day in a so-called “daily standup”. The scrum master is responsible for trouble shooting at this meeting.

 

3.Shoulder responsibility and determine your own organizational structure

Completely autonomous decision-making on the part of a team with regard to organizational structure has to be the most agile way of working, but it has to be the most challenging, too.  If a team goes this way, each member takes on equal responsibility for the overall result and 100 per cent responsibility for their own performance. This organizational structure demands a great deal of maturity on the part of each and every team member and, in addition, high communicational competence.  That’s why it is mostly small, highly specialized teams – such as, for instance, in research and development – who opt to manage themselves.
Of course, our three options for organizational structure will not suit every company. What does, however, apply to every company across the board: Agility is not a quality you can command by simply snapping your fingers. In fact, organizational structure has to be shaped to fit the circumstances at hand – features will vary from task to task, from team to team, from company to company. But what is equally important: Agile structures can be learned and tested in microcosm. Trust your employees to do the job – you will be pleasantly surprised by the results!

 

Are there teams in your organization who are already operating with agility? What benefits have they experienced? What are the challenges that they face? And what do your employees think?

 

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