Let’s say we’ve “conquered agile”, and the prophecy came true: we have a self-organizing team.
How does leadership fit into this?
What does a leader do in a self-organizing team?
Influence. Leadership comes in many shapes and colors. There’ll be the technical leaders. The experts about technology and or process. There’ll be social-political leaders. We’ll ask them who to involve in discussions, and who will get upset because we didn’t. And there’ll be the visionaries, who will tell us where we need to go when we’re lost.
Does a self-organizing team need a leader?
Wrong question. We’ll see leaders emerge, whether we want to or not. It’s part of the self-organizing thing. So there will be one or more leaders with different types of influence. We can’t know in advance who will be the leaders, and we can’t really direct it.
Can we grow leaders to be managers?
Good communicators have a good chance to lead. Experts can be the wise men and women to find answers and innovate with whole teams.
But the truth is: We don’t really know.
What we can identify is potential. But we don’t know about the potential fulfillment. When leaders emerge, we promote them or move them to other teams, expecting their leadership to evolve in the same way. But teams, self-organizing or not, will evolve differently because they have different people. Teams are complex system, so we don’t really know what will happen. We can try the influence the systems, but expect some surprises. We don’t know the outcome.
So what’s a manager to do?
First, we need to understand that self-organizing teams are more effective than teams under command-and-control pyramids. As managers, we need to step back, and let the team gain autonomy to get more effective.
When leaders emerge, and we’re thinking “promotion”, we need to prepare them. Because to become effective managers, they’ll need to know about how to evolve self-organizing teams by themselves. We’ll need to tell them all about complexity and uncertainty. About how to influence from outside by taking a step back.
Most organizations don’t teach that since the idea of self organized teams are not encouraged.
But if you want to change the organization, start by creating effective teams. Identify potential leaders, prepare them for promotion by teaching them, and then help them grow their teams to be effective.
And maybe someday, we won’t need “managers”.