Tag Archive: practices


Part of a series intended to briefly explain how to apply different agile practices to the work of social innovators, today’s topic is Using Self-Organizing Teams instead of Groups:

In a traditional work setting, there is a manager who oversees a group of people with specific role definitions. There is a one way reporting relationship. If you can imagine a pyramid-shaped org. chart, you’ve got the basics.

Agile works on the principle of self-organizing teams.  In an agile work setting, the members of the team organize the work tasks among themselves.  They volunteer for tasks and hold each other accountable for completing the work. The manager, who is not necessarily on the team, is responsible for giving the team the support they need to do the work. The trust invested in the team has a huge payoff for the individual team members and the organization in terms of productivity and satisfaction.

There are two primary reasons I believe social innovators would be attracted towards self-organizing teams: efficient use of people resources and creating a culture of empowerment.  It is more efficient to have a team of equals who have a unified vision and who produce valuable results for their stakeholders instead of a group of individuals with a singular view defined by their job description that produce results for their manager.  An organization with a culture of empowerment draws on the capacities, experiences, and motivations of impassioned individuals and gives them the tools required to produce valuable results and change the world for the better.

I wrote about my experiences applying this approach to the work of a volunteer-driven charity in the article Agile Approach to Volunteer Management

Would you like help becoming more agile?

If you would like help building Self-Organizing Teams in your organization, or adopting any other agile practice, please post a comment on the blog. I am certified to provide OpenAgile training, coaching, and consulting, and I would be happy to aid your enterprise to realize the full benefits of being agile.

For the past several weeks, I have been helping a small charity solve a dilemma. Because the charity is well-recognized for their good work, they regularly attract volunteers who want to help. Unfortunately, the two overworked staff members are too busy to recruit, train, and manage them. My approach has been to use OpenAgile, an open source system for delivering value to stakeholders, to implement a few simple techniques to help them.

There are several aspects of OpenAgile that fit very well for managing volunteers:

1. Self-Organizing Behavior

This means people “volunteer” for tasks instead of doing them based on a tightly defined role or having someone tell them what to do. This frees the staff from having to assign work. Instead, they identify priorities and rely on the volunteer’s creativity and personal motivation to do the task in their own way.

2. Shared Responsibility for the Workload

When there is more than one volunteer, they work in a team and share the responsibility for the workload. The team of volunteers discuss the priorities of the organization, and decide among themselves what tasks need to be completed. Then, they create and commit to a 1-2 week short-term plan that will deliver those results. Finally, they come back after the 1-2 week period and reflect on what they accomplished.  This pattern of action, reflection, learning, and planning is one of the Foundations of OpenAgile.

3. Visible Tasks

This means that all people doing the work should be able to see what tasks needs to get done, what is in progress, and what tasks are done. One technique that co-located teams often use is simply posting tasks on a wall using sticky notes. (Check out my OpenAgile Task Wall Prezi) Another cool idea is Card Meeting which works on the same principle, but it can be useful for distributed teams.

4. Learning Manifesto

The emphasis on learning is perhaps the most important aspect of OpenAgile that aligns with the needs of volunteer management.  The Learning Manifesto states that “Learning is the key that unlocks human capacity.”  Volunteers are drawn to an organization because of its vision but can get pushed away when they feel they’re underutilized or not able to contribute in a meaningful way.  By making it explicit that the volunteer is primarily accountable for learning, the organization creates a safe space for experimentation and innovation.

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