Teams are more effective when they have more control over how to do their work and in what order. This is the essence of “self-management”, and it is critical to Scrum teams and other kinds of Agile teams.

Self-managing teams are central to Scrum and other Agile methodologies. Teams need high autonomy in complex environments, like product development. In such environments, the people that perform the work have a more accurate and up-to-date understanding of what is happening and what is needed than managers that are more distant from that work (Trist, 1951). High autonomy is an important contributor to successful Agile teams (Donmez & Gudela, 2013Tripp & Armstrong, 2018). Self-managing teams have been associated with a range of positive effects (Kirkman & Rosen, 1999), such as increased productivity, job satisfaction, and higher commitment. Junker et. al. (2021) also found that Agile teams take more ownership of their improvements when they experience high autonomy. Melo et. al. (2013) also identified the ability to self-manage work as a critical success factor for Agile teams.

Teams vary in how self-managing they are. This is negotiated with their environment, and in particular management. At the least, Agile teams should be able to control how they do their work and in what order. But teams can be more self-managing. For example, they may be responsible for hiring new members or set their own salaries. They may have their own budgets to spend on training, tools and education.

So what are strategies to start improving?

👉 First, the best strategy is to first identify in which areas teams have autonomy and in which areas they lack it. This makes for easier and more directed conversations with other departments, teams, and management in order to expand that autonomy.

👉 Second, there is always tension between self-managing teams and the desire of organizations to align how teams work. Traditionally, organizations achieved alignment through the standardization of work procedures, tools, and skills. However, this can reduce and take away much of the autonomy of teams. Moe et. al. (2019) suggest that shared goals are more effective in self-managing environments to align teams and work towards a common direction.

👉 Third, self-management is something that teams have to grow into. Teams need to develop the skills to navigate conflict, set goals, and nurture natural leadership. Some members may appreciate self-managing teams much more than others. So don’t rush into it. Take the time to support and help teams.

Actions to start small and simple are:
1️⃣ Pick one aspect of your current work method that is holding you back as a team. Stop doing it for a Sprint. Reflect during the (Sprint) Retrospective on what improved and what got worse.
2️⃣ Identify one person or department that you depend on as a team to get your work done each Sprint. Contact them to see how you can do some of the work they normally do for you.
3️⃣ In the next Sprint, make 1 decision that would normally be taken by someone outside the team. Inform this person afterward.


What is your experience with improving self-management❓ What recommendations do you have to help a team start improving❓Self-management is one of the 20+ factors we measure to determine Agile & Scrum team effectiveness. Based on the results, teams receive evidence-based feedback on how to start improving.

Why don’t you give the Agile/Scrum Team Survey a try? We offer a free version focused on individual teams and a paid version that shows aggregated results of multiple teams.


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