Peak 1: Mount Fuji – Climbing the Self Management Mountain Range

1-mount fuji

Mount Fuji – Coordination

The first peak in this model is Mount Fuji, with its 3776 meters. If you’ve been there you may have noticed that it’s a pretty touristy place. In fact you can find experienced climbers but also totally inexperienced people who get there by bus.

We associate this mount with coordination, the first stage of self organisation in this model. This is when a team starts to self organize, which usually in our experience comes in the following forms.

Task distribution

Teams that are new to self organization usually follow Scrum or Kanban rules and visualize their work on physical boards where they can easily see who’s responsible for each task. In this phase team members love using magnets or other fancy sticky labels to see who’s doing what after discussing among themselves how to best divide the work and how to best leverage individuals’ skills in the team. Sounds familiar?

Space distribution

Where should teams sit? Who gets the brightest spots? Who gets the noisiest? Answering these questions may seem of little importance (if you’re lucky to be in a place with some self management in place already) but you’d be surprised by how many companies whose teams have managers making decisions for them struggle with this problem every time they form teams or change their members. Solving this puzzle can be an extremely painful process, with competing managers, back and forth consultations, half decisions,  long meetings, layouts that result from exhaustion rather than consent and ultimately, unhappy people.

A few years ago our office had this same problem to solve after reshuffling teams but we were in a favorable situation where we could decide as a group instead of having managers do that.

As scrum masters we were asked to come up with a process to solve the puzzle collectively, and we took the opportunity to be creative and add some level of self organization in the process. We tried to simplify it as much as we could and came up with a funny way to it.

We took all the teams involved to a session and asked them to elect a spokesperson on the spot to represent each team. Then, we gathered all the spokespersons around a map of the office and gave them as many little post it paper balls as team members in their team, each team a different colour, and asked them to place those paper balls on the layout together, discussing among themselves and bringing the voice of the teams they represented. We timeboxed it to 30 minutes and asked to come up with a viable layout in that time.

teams distribution paper balls

We were a bit scared at the beginning but interestingly there was no tension or argument, and people actually were very happy to take part into that because they felt like they had a voice in the decision. Simple, quick, sweet.

Team identity

Team identity can mean many different things to different people. In our experience team identity starts from very basic things like a name and logo, and part of our job back when we formed new teams a couple of years ago was to help them figure those out. One of the first things we did with them was to encourage them to call themselves something more meaningful than just “Service X Team” or “Component Y Team” (yes, that’s also you “API Team no. 2237” out there).

Another great way to let teams find their identity is by helping them find their values, which we usually do by facilitating that discovery process with them. Values are what’s important for them, what makes them angry, sad or proud of what they do. Interestingly, different teams in our experience found very different values which represent them quite well.

By helping them find their identity we helped them finding what makes them unique, so in way we could say we helped them like Sherpas would do (okay, considering this was Mount Fuji maybe we did more like bus drivers than Sherpas).

Start with Fuji

These are just a few examples of things that managers can start to delegate to teams. We consider these in our first level because they can do no harm to the business but they can mean a lot to a team building their confidence in making decisions.

Stay tuned and climb the next mountains with us!

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