Self-organized teams at the enterprise level – but how?
Self-organized teams at the enterprise level – but how?

Self-organized teams at the enterprise level – but how?

Anyone who deals with agility and modern leadership quickly comes across the topic of self-organization. The self-responsibility of teams is deeply anchored in the Scrum Guide. How can this principle also work at the corporate level?

What if not only a development team works independently in its sprint cosmos, but teams also organize themselves at the corporate level? There are many reasons for letting a team manage itself – participation, motivation, employee retention and speed play a central role here.


How does self-organization work best?


Self-organization requires a clear framework within which a team can manage itself and make its own decisions. Working out these guidelines together is one of the first steps toward a self-organized team. This is also confirmed by an informative article by Virtual Team Heroes with five tips for self-organization.


It shows how important it is to define the boundaries of self-organization. In addition, it should be recorded exactly how and who can decide. A good way to establish a decision-making framework is the Delegation Poker with seven steps:


  1. Tell: I decide – and then I inform you/you about it.
  2. Sell: I decide – and convince you afterwards that it was the right thing to do.
  3. Consult: I decide, but first I ask you for your advice and opinion and take this input into account in my decision.
  4. Agree: We decide together after discussing everything and reaching a consensus.
  5. Advise: You decide, but I offer you my opinion and advice.
  6. Inquire: You decide – and I inquire afterward about what you decided.
  7. Delegate: You decide – and I don’t need to know how and why you decided.


The team plays through exemplary situations/possible scenarios together and everyone places the card that they find most suitable for the respective situation. The group discusses the results and agrees on an appropriate level for each scenario. In this way, clear decision-making premises can be developed quickly and easily in advance, which the team members can use as a guide.


The (management) tasks that the team will assume should be made transparent and distributed among the team members. This also includes clarifying who represents the team in higher-level leadership rounds. According to a study by the Fraunhofer Institute, the greatest possible equality of treatment is a key success factor for acceptance in the team.


It is also important to determine which agreements will be necessary and how they should be structured. Care must be taken to ensure that decision-making is as democratic and efficient as possible.


Further information on delegation poker can be found in the Management Journal, among others.


Challenges: What is important to keep in mind?


Findings of the Fraunhofer Institute from an experiment show that the (self-)organization of “daily business” works comparatively well, while coordination and agreements within the team require additional time. This must be taken into account in weekly and capacity planning to avoid overload.


Areas in which criticism among each other typically has to be exercised or quality checks have to be carried out were also highlighted as particularly challenging. Resolving conflicts within the team can also be difficult without a higher-level management authority. Classic tasks of employee development and support can turn out to be a further challenge.


Here, an external person could be called in for more complex development tasks who can support implementation without disciplinary competence.


What does the self-organization of the team mean for the rest of the company?


Initially, it can be somewhat irritating for colleagues and higher-level management to not have a single contact person or to always have a team representative as a counterpart. However, with good communication and organization in the team and clear and consistent adherence to agreements, these irritations should quickly fade away and rather serve as inspiration and motivation for other teams.


The manager who is superior to the team has an important role in the background. It serves as a supporting, coaching function – but not as a substitute for direct leadership. The HR department, the works council and, last but not least, the company management can also contribute to the team’s success and provide it with advice and support.


Last but not least, all those involved need courage, stamina and the willingness to gradually venture down the path to successful self-organization by regularly reviewing and adapting the approach and agreements.


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Michael Henninger, Project Management and Agile
Michael Henninger
Project Management and Agile