Traditional forms of collaboration in flux

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Working in self-organized teams Traditional forms of collaboration in flux

Published on 14.08.2019 by Ricarda Raemy, Customer Insights Specialist, Post CH Ltd

Agile approaches are needed to maintain the ability to act and adapt in dynamic markets.

What are self-organized teams?

In self-organized teams, leadership responsibility is distributed across a large number of employees who are then able to react to surprising situations more quickly thanks to independent decision making.

This programmatic approach is in line with the agile management concept in which self-organized teams can decide for themselves how to do their job and are not controlled by outsiders.

The transformation to self-organization takes place in stages with support from the former manager, but with a clear tendency towards reducing this support incrementally. One of many examples is employees reflecting on and describing their duties and being responsible for writing their own job profiles. The next stage involves employees reorganizing their own sphere of activities with the support of their manager. In the last stage, the team is called upon to divide up and adapt the work using a suitable method such as Scrum. It starts with the company-defined job profile and ends with a distribution of tasks negotiated by the team itself.

Not every task can be performed by every person, but each employee is able to support all the others. Cross-disciplinary collaboration is the goal, i.e. an employee does not simply support their function unit with their own know-how, but also assists in other areas.

This is already the case in some Swiss Post units. Various teams are formed or the role of employees is distributed according to the project or order. The following team constellation would be one possibility: one person assuming responsibility, a challenger for feedback and a representative. Each employee can take on a different role per team, which encourages personal competence, knowledge building and skills transfer.

Ready for self-organization?

Companies wishing to introduce self-organization require a cultural shift. It is not enough to just modify processes and introduce tools such as Scrum. It has more to do with a shift in awareness in all involved parties, i.e. in terms of the method of communication and collaboration.

There will be a period of time that needs to be withstood in which everything seems to work less effectively since there is a lack of routine for this new way of collaborating. 

Such change processes require time and strong advocates at the top level of company management: it is generally the operative managers who provide their staff and teams with the orientation and motivation needed to perform everyday work.

Self-organization is not something that happens once and is done, nor does a team achieve a status and then remain there. In fact, the self-organization process is never complete. Teams need to respond to changing needs through repeated realignment. They need to react to transformed contexts and continually put their agility to the test. Self-organization can only work once everyone is on board in terms of content and methodology.

Team interfaces to other organizations, customers and suppliers managed by other methods also need to be clearly defined. Results are monitored through self-monitoring in the team. It thus becomes clear that self-organization is no picnic, but by methodically adhering to the rules and rituals, social monitoring is very reliable.

Ricarda Raemy, Customer Insights Specialist, Post CH AG

Ricarda Raemy is a market researcher, design thinker and customer experience manager at Swiss Post.

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