Building Self-Organizing Teams for the Organization

October 4, 2019



Business leaders must create responsive organizations.  This means organisations that can adapt, self-correct, and resiliently overcome the challenges they face. This can be a complex challenge for business any leader.

The creation and enablement of self-organizing teams can be a useful tool in the hands of business leaders when building agile organizations.

Glenda Holladay Eoyang defines Self-organizing teams as those who are continually able to construct new patterns of interaction and behavior to achieve goals set out for the team. The advantage of self-organizing teams given a clear vision for the team and business lies in the team's ability to adapt with less resourcing or organizational support. The result is a business that can meet the demands of their environments at a higher velocity.


Conditions for Self-Organizing Teams 
Three conditions need to be met to construct self-organizing teams, according to Eoyang:

1. A Containing Boundary around the Members
The containing boundary effectively allows the group to define itself as a team. The boundary can be as simple as a physical room or a clear set of responsibilities or outcomes for the team. 


2. Significant Differences between the Members of the Team
The differences between team members in the form of knowledge, experience, or power are needed to generate patterns of behavior necessary for the team to form and function.


3. A Transforming Exchange between the Members
A formal or informal transfer of information, resources, or energy between the members of the team. The result is a change to the broader set of interactions within the organization. 


In his book, Leading Self-Organizing Teams, Siegfried Kaltenecker illustrates the “4 i’s” support self-organizing teams need from the organization: 


1. Information
The information necessary for the teams to organize and reach their defined outcomes


2. Infrastructure
Support in the form of technical infrastructure, physical space, and required resources.


3. Instruction
Educational assistance team members might need to reach their outcomes.


4. Incentive 
A fair and attractive incentive as a reward for reaching outcomes. 



Why Self-Organizing Teams are Good for Innovation
Innovation is mainly about making new ideas useful. Within a market context, we find that value-creating innovations have a shelf life before the competitive market forces start eroding the value created by the innovation. Time to market is, therefore, a key element to innovation and it is within that context that self-organizing teams possess an advantage. Self-organizing teams have the freedom to re-organize at pace to reach pre-defined outcomes. The structure creates an environment with less friction to producing innovation. 


Businesses that can adapt, self-correct, and resiliently overcome the challenges will succeed against the obstacles their eco-systems throw at them. Self-organizing teams enable business agility and push the company toward success.

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