Many of my clients who are managers worry about their role or even their job when we talk about self-organization: “If team members are beginning to self-organize, then what is my role? What will I do if I no longer manage the team? Do I still have my place in this kind of work environment? Team members will not see the relevance of my ideas and they will do as they please.”

So many questions and fears that clearly demonstrate the insecurity arising from a new way of doing or from changes brought to a person’s role.

Questioning, a source for success!

Before going further, I would like to congratulate those managers who aren’t afraid of questioning themselves. They understand that, to be consistent with self-organization, their role has to evolve. This awareness is a good sign for their own success and that of their Agile transition.

Many managers who want to transition to Agility and implement self-organizing teams don’t have the reflex to question their role. They become their worst problem. By continuing to act in a rather directive manner, these managers quietly stifle the employees’ efforts to empower themselves through self-organization. These leaders don’t perceive the impact of their own ways of doing on the success of the Agile transition. In fact, they often believe that it is the employees who must act differently, not themselves.

On the other hand, other leaders understand that their own behaviours and actions are part of the success of their Agile transition. So, I noticed that more and more managers and executives ask for personal coaching services to help them in their own transformation. They understand that this transformation is not only technical but that it also calls for a change in their own personal behaviour and way of thinking. Therefore, I tip my hat to those who are willing to question themselves! And I encourage all managers and leaders to ask themselves the following question: “What do I have to adapt in my behaviour regarding self-organization?” And if the answer is very little or else it’s the others to adapt their behaviours, then I invite them to explore the question further…

The Agile manager, always essential

I would like to say loud and clear that in a context where teams are self-organizing, the manager is essential and will always be. In retrospect, when Agility and self-organization have taken off in organizations, several teams were at first contesting any form of authority. Any directive was seen as an affront to self-organization. Quickly, we realized that without the presence of a manager, teams were not always successful to deliver. Moreover, if they managed to deliver, the results did not always meet the expectations. That is, throughout an iteration, teams can lose sight of the objective set and deviate from the expectations. Furthermore, without a manager, they must invest time in managing organizational constraints, leaving them less time to work on the delivery. That is why we talk about self-organization, not self-management. The manager remains important in the role of guardian of the objective to be achieved which has been delegated to him and that, in turn, he delegates to a team. In addition, the manager plays an important role in the alignment of energies between teams or in managing the organizational constraints impacting the team’s delivery.

 Self-organization, not a binary concept

There is a whole continuum in self-organization, and the ability for a team to self-organize highly depends on its maturity level and that of its members. When a team’s work is based on a management model where decision making relies partly on the manager, this team cannot self-organize instantaneously. Thus, in addition to his own transformation, the manager must help the team progressively increase its autonomy. The transfer of responsibilities should be gradual and at a pace sustainable for the team, based on its maturity level. The more a team is self-organizing, higher is its maturity level and the more it will be able to carry out responsibilities.

So, dear managers, your place is still important in organizations. Don’t hesitate to question yourselves like teams do. Your ability to move from a command approach to a “servant leader” approach is an important factor to the success of self-organization.

In a future blog post, I will specifically address the skills required to act as a “servant leader” with Agile teams. Stay tuned!


Pyxis has offices in North America, Europe, and Asia.

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1 Comment

    11/04/2016 at 23:35 — Reply

    All the things mentioned in post supporting the need for a manager seems to me are now the responsibilities of typical roles in Scrum i.e., Product Owner, ScrumMaster, and the Team. This post would be more useful if some comparison was made between these three roles and a manager role.

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