The self organizing team – A black knight

March 11, 2011

About 20+ years ago, I worked one summer pulling cables at a construction site for a newspaper printing company. I was part of a team of about 8 persons and a team leader. For me, this was an internship over the summer, but the other guys were doing this for a living.

The job was quite easy; the team leader looked at the blue prints and told the rest of us what kind of cable to use, where to start and where to stop. Not being too mentally challenged by the task of pulling a cable from A to B, I tried to learn more about other stuff. I asked the team leader how to read the blue prints, I tried to learn more about the equipment being used at the site and so on. Then one day when I came to work, the entire team was sitting in a semi-circle on the floor, smoking and chatting. Our team leader hadn’t shown up since he’d caught one of those nasty summer colds. Not knowing how these things worked, I sat down with the rest of the team waiting for the signal to start working. After about half an hour or so, I realized that nothing was going to happen. We had lost our team leader, so the day would be spent sitting on the floor in a semi-circle smoking and chatting. I figured that this was probably not in the best interest of anyone so I picked up the blue print, looked at what needed to be done and asked the others to join me in pulling a couple of 5 core cables from one end of the building to one of the printing presses. I think I managed to get a couple of guys to help me with a handful of cables before everyone were sitting on the floor again and I realized that this was the way that I was going to spend this summers day.

Part of this experience probably should be used to reflect on my leadership abilities at the time. However, the real learning for me, looking back at it today was that this was a very specialized team without the motivation to self organize. Anyone of the team members could probably have read that blue print, but it wasn’t in their job description to do that and they sure as hell was not going to let a kid still in school tell them what to do either. Today, I see the same pattern in new Scrum teams. They start out as highly specialized member of their teams and if one person gets sick, it’s semi-circle-time again.

But now for something completely different …

Do you remember that scene with the black knight from “Monty Python And The Holy Grail”?

Whether you do or don’t, here it is:

I’d like to see that perseverance and problem solving in every team. “We’re here to solve a task and by God, we will do it … no matter what.”

The team loses a business analyst.

– Tis but a scratch.

The team loses a tester.

– Just a flesh wound.

The team loses it’s ScrumMaster.

– Come ‘ere. We’re invincible.

The team loses it’s back-end developer.

– We’ll bite your legs off!

The self organizing team must be able to heal itself, to lose a leg and still yell “Have at you! Come on then!”.

“Semi-circle” or “Just a flesh wound”?

Tester/developer/ScrumMaster or Team Member?

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