Moving toward self-organizing teams–whether driven by adopting agile methods or not–doesn’t mean that all the managers are out the door. There’s still plenty of management work to do; it’s just different work. And, for many managers, it is also more satisfying work.
In this article Esther Derby describes how self-organizing teams are different from manager-led teams and lay out how that changes the manager’s role.
Manager-led teams are often like ski teams. Each person is selected for her individual skills and abilities as a skier. Each excels as an individual. All the members of a ski team are working for a common goal–winning the competition. Each contributes to success by making it down the hill as fast as she can, while passing through all the gates on the course. The coach’s job is to improve individual performance skills. A ski team trains together, but when the meet comes, each team member is on their own. They don’t win by working together; it’s the sum of the individual scores that wins the meet.
Self-organizing teams are more like soccer teams. Each player has a position on the team based on her skills; however, the team must work together in order to win the game. In addition, each team member constantly adjusts her position and actions to create the best opportunity to score (or to prevent the opposition from scoring). If the team doesn’t constantly coordinate and adjust to the current circumstances, it doesn’t stand much chance of winning, even with star players on the team. Once the team is on the field, the coach can only observe and diagnose problems. He directs the team during timeouts and adjusts strategies through substitutions. Most of his work comes before the game, building individual skills. But even more importantly, he teaches team members to work together to achieve their goal.