Article | Agile Leadership

Agile Leaders Hire & Empower Self-Organizing Teams

by Robin Hackshall
Image of a Scrum team practicing agile in human resources

You want to attract and keep the best talent, but as the economy rebounds, what that looks like has transformed as well. Your best candidates expect more than just salary and benefits these days, and you won't win them over with placating perks. So how do you attract those top performers? By empowering your teams to self-organize to co-create an empowered, innovative, customer-centric culture.

Agile teams are self-organizing and cross-functional — they choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside of the team.  It's an environment in which employees feel empowered and have control over the work they perform, as well as one that promises them the chance to have more fun.

Agility can be an important talent attraction – and retention – tool. When you hire for agile teams, you must look for self-managers (as defined by Focus Education UK Ltd., © 2014):

  • I am happy to have a go at something new even if it is hard.

  • I am able to set myself a target or goal.

  • I can think about more than one way to solve a problem.

  • I keep going even when the going is tough and others find it easy.

  • I enjoy taking responsibility.

  • I can work within a time frame.

  • I enjoy challenges, especially open-ended or deeper-thinking ones.

  • I recognize risks that may be involved when tackling my work.

  • I can use success criteria to check how successful a task has been.

  • I am able to assess risk and make sensible decisions.

  • I can call on a range of strategies to help me overcome a problem.

The language is quite "soft" and not specific to Scrum or software development — teachers use these criteria to assess the self-managing skills of children. Every member of a Scrum team should also be able to develop and exhibit them, making themselves self-managers as part of a self-organizing team.

Look for effective participators, resourceful thinkers, reflective learners, independent enquirers, and team workers. Why?

Self-Organizing Is Self-Fulfilling

Frontline employees have the best visibility into what needs to be achieved, the best understanding of the challenges the project faces, and the biggest stake in its success. When you let employees own the development and implementation of the solution — the “how” — amazing things tend to happen:

  • Their project aligns better with the business needs.

  • They understand how they contribute to your organization's goals and objectives.

  • They are much more engaged with their work.

  • The approach is more efficient than when the solution is developed by a separate team.

When your employees have more ownership in their work, it drives absenteeism and turnover down while driving productivity up. Agile teams are inherently collaborative, so they manage their own performance, make their own mistakes, and track their own results, all within a safe-to-fail environment.

Agile Teams Enjoy More Immediate Rewards for Their Work 

You've probably read countless articles about the importance of rewarding employees. Agility includes built-in rewards. 

  • Employees celebrate their achievements each time an incremental product deliverable is released.

  • Regular client feedback drives greater satisfaction in the work done on all sides.

  • Team members enjoy the autonomy to solve problems through innovative solutions.

Regular client feedback is rewarding in its own right. Sure, you like to hear praise for work well done. Constructive feedback, ideally fueled by authentic and honest customer relationships, improves your product increments, drives innovation, reduces risk, and often increases your ROI. Employees who can quickly do what's necessary to deliver a great product that meets their clients' needs, without spending their sleeping hours working, tend to be pretty happy.

Don't discount the reward of having fun! When team members work in an environment they control, with the freedom to work in the way they decide, that's tremendously powerful. Traditional frameworks don't typically align with having fun, yet employees who have fun deliver better results, stay with you longer, and refer their often equally brilliant friends and colleagues when you have a position to fill.

Sustainable Benefits and a Springboard for Cultural Innovation

Agility starts your entire organization on a journey of improvement, of cultural innovation.

  • Frontline employees understand customer needs better.

  • Future business managers get practical experience as time, task, and people managers.

  • Individuals and teams engage in deliverables more willingly, creatively, and with more ownership.

  • High-value employees look for internal, rather than external, advancement.

Your team members become recruiters for your company, proactively bringing talent to you.

Agility can help you attract and keep the best employees, even in a competitive market. It can also help you create an environment of meaningful, continuous improvement. And combined, the best talent delivering the best product through continuous improvement translates to happy employees and a happy bottom line.

 

Robin Hackshall contributed to this article.