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Self Managed teams manage their own work, allocate work to themselves and track their own work. The Scrum Guide suggests that the Scrum Team be self managed. The common myths around self management and cross functionality are listed in another article “Myths around Self management and cross functionality

This article is around “how” to help the Scrum team become self managed.

It is ok to make mistakes

Most organizations have no or very less tolerance for mistakes. Naturally, the teams become defensive and do not take up any risks. Less risks means lesser innovation and lesser possibility of building great products. Organization culture needs to encourage teams to try new things. Once the teams gets motivated and have a comfort feel that they will not be punished, the teams tend to take up work themselves. In short – the culture should be to encourage mistakes rather than discourage them.

Taking a step back

Great leaders take a step back and let the team take a step forward. Job of a leadership is to make the team independent and let them manage themselves. One of the major roadblocks is that the leadership is in a “decision making” mode. The “command and control” style of leadership style is sometimes assumed by the leadership. However, in a smart people industry, it is wrong to assume that the people on the ground are fools and cannot think. Leadership’s job is to enable the teams to start thinking and not penalize them for wrong result.

Another aspect of taking a step back is to make sure that the Scrum Master or the leadership does not become overprotective of the team. The Scrum Master has to let the team make mistakes and improve from the mistakes.

This is of course a big design change, however, needs to come into organizations if we have to let the team become self managed.

Move away from “Hero” cultures

Many organizations have a culture of rewarding the “heroes” thereby making them “super-heros”. In a short term, this may give results, but then, the hero-culture creates underlying issues.

  • The Heroes shield information from the teams and the team actually remains where they are in terms of their knowledge and depth
  • Once the heroes feel indispensable, there is a tendency to take the organization hostage and demand unreasonable things from the leadership
  • Heroes create dependency and a culture where the hero becomes a bottleneck
  • Hero burns out many times
  • The team on the ground loses trust on the leadership since they start feeling that they are not needed

This is one of the major issues in making the team becoming self-managed. They always wait for the decision to be taken by the heroes and does not take accountability. The accountability of success and failure then shifts to the heroes.

No Hierarchies, No Sub-teams and No titles

  • Hierarchical structure in side the teams creates a culture of depending on the “team-lead” for the decision. In this culture, the team on the ground does not feel empowered and is scared to take any decisions. In case of a wrong decision, the team members get reprimanded by the team-lead. Therefore the team refrains from taking any decision and just becomes a order follower of the team-lead. Even the leadership makes “team-lead” accountable for everything, so the team-lead is also reluctant to trust the team members on any decisions.
  • Sub-team culture creates a “ping-pong” culture of throwing the ball into someone else’s court. The team members do not take accountability of their work and find it more convenient to throw the ball across the court on the other side.
  • Creating Titles inside the team such as “senior”, “junior”, “trainee” creates divides. The “juniors” feel that it is the senior’s responsibility and the seniors feel that the juniors do not take accountability. In reality, even if the junior takes decisions, there is always a feeling in the seniors that the junior is taking away their job or junior is trying to poke their nose inside senior’s work. This creates divides within the team and a major hurdle in making self-managed teams.

Scrum Master / Product Owner should not be the manager or boss of the team

Many companies organize the teams in such a way that the team on the ground reports to Scrum Master or the Product Owner. When this happens, the fear of getting reprimanded or fired from the job prevents the team on the ground from taking their own accountability. The team on the ground then becomes an order follower and wait for Scrum Master or Product Owner for assigning the day-to-day tasks. This again becomes one of the hurdles in making the teams self-managed.

Rewarding teams instead of individuals

Many organizations have reward cultures where individuals are singled out and rewarded. This creates a sense of dis-satisfaction within the team members. Most of the time, it is not about a single individual – it is the team-work which makes great products. Instead of creating awards like “star of the month” or “star of the quarter” or “star of the project”, the awards should be more like “star team of the month” or “star team of the quarter” or “most collaborative team of the month”. This creates a team-culture rather than an individual culture. Creating a self-managed team is about building trust among the team members and they should all enjoy the success. It should not be one individual enjoying the fruits, it should be the entire team.

Building cross functional teams

Most people feel that cross functionality is all about having all skills within one person. This is very difficult to achieve. When we talk about cross functionality, it is about the “team” having all skills within the team to make things happen. This is much more practical. To make a self-managed team, it is important that the team recognizes what skills are missing and works towards bridging the skill gap.

Building end-to-end accountability with feature teams

The traditional team structures are horizontal structures where a particular component such as coding or testing is managed by the team. This results in team not able to take end-to-end accountability and tends to put the blame on the other component when the things do not work. Feature team builds end-to-end accountability and helps the team to think of product or feature as a whole instead of thinking of it as a part.


Making a self-managed team is a journey. It is a major organizational design change. This requires the Scrum Master / Agile coach to help the team understand how to get the team to become Self Managed. This article has presented some tangible ways in which self management can be started off.