’twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…

But Glen Alleman and I were chatting via his blog about the difference between self-organizing and self-directed teams, and how failing to recognize the difference gets people in trouble from time to time.

A (slightly) edited form of the conversation:

Esther: I’d agree that self-organizing teams are not the same as self-directed teams. I specifically reference self-organizing teams, not self-directed teams. Self-organizing teams exist within an organization context and serve the needs of that organization.

I agree there is still a strong role for management in organizations that have self-organizing teams.

Glen: My experience has been whenever the term “self organizing team” is used it is taken to be “self directed.” In the absence of a specific statement about the differences in the first sentence of any article the listener jumps to the end with “we’re going to run our team in the absence of management.” The next step is usually the cancellation of the project ;>)

Esther: As often as I see teams reject guidance from management “because we are self-organizing,” I see *managers* abdicate any responsibility to the team or for the team. Neither stance is very productive.

But it does take both managers and team members time to figure out new roles and how to work in a new relationship. That’s part of the reason I wrote the article.

Glen: It does take both side of the “team” to understand their individual and combined roles.

I’ve moved back into defense system for many reasons, but one is the continuous questioning of “how can this benefit the program as a whole – the entire business operation?” Management in this environment are the leaders of the subject matter experts, rather than the “supervisors” of the labor. We are working managers, rather than observers.

The article provides a wonderful starting point for the conversation about how each role contributes to the successful completion of the project.


My entire article (referenced earlier in this blog) seems not to be online right now 🙁