How Self-Organizing Teams Are The Key To The Reopening

 How Self-Organizing Teams Are The Key To The Reopening

By Luciana Paulise

In the aftermath of the Covid-19 outbreak this year, change has become the only constant. The answer to reopening the economy may lay in converting big organizations into smaller, self-organizing teams.

As the U.S. saw a 125% increase in remote work usage, companies had to start communicating in different ways, with team structures and leader’s roles changing. The question now is, four months into this crisis, who has been able to adapt best?

The organizations that adapted quickest were self-organizing teams: small groups, ideally around eight but no more than twenty people, that are autonomous, transparent, decisive, cross-functional, and self-disciplined.

A study conducted by McKinsey found that “companies that ranked higher on managing the impact of the Covid-19 crisis were also those with agile practices more deeply embedded in their enterprise operating models.” Agile teams continued their work almost seamlessly, while non-agile teams struggled to be productive.

This concept was also apparent on the homefront. While my husband and I were working from home, my daughter, Sol, was still able to go to school and complete kindergarten in last week of June. How come, I wondered, was she able to continue her routine amid this crisis? Sol attended a small school, with no more than 15 students of various ages. They transitioned to studying online between April and May, but the move had been seamless. As it’s a self-paced school, Sol already knew what she had to do and how. While I was hearing that most schools in the world were struggling to connect students and teachers, Sol’s school had done a great job in keeping the connection with the students and the job done.

Non-agile teams were pushed to become more agile, even without knowing. Many leaders were used to checking on employees at all times before the pandemic. Now, while remote, managers had to learn to trust employees to know what they were doing. Manager and workers learned:

  1.       To re-connect to the company’s purpose and values in order to serve the customer needs better. Working at the same location made it easier to see the connection with others. Working apart, employees demand more communication. People look for their small tribe where they could maintain a strong human connection.  
  2.       Workers learned to be more self-reliant and improved independent decision making when managers are not available.  Employees also increased attention to details, especially in handling customer data. Information had to be shared more openly to increase trust and self-confidence. While working at the office, employees had the luxury to rely on leaders’ decision-making processes. Moving remotely pushed decision making to the front-line.
  3.       Respect individual needs. Previously, employees were not asked for input on how they wanted to go about their jobs. After Covid-19, employees’  needs started to be taken into account. Some people were alone and were able to work more, while some others lived with their kids, and had to work at night to be able to focus. At the same time, the Black Lives Matter movement intensified the need for equality, diversity and inclusion of minorities.
  4.      Empower themselves to become more autonomous. Employees had to define new ways to get their job done in a different setting. They had also had to learn to set new goals based on their current availability.

These four values — connection, attention, respect and empowerment —  are practiced daily by self-organized teams in agile organizations. During hard times, self-organization became one of the most valuable skills in organizations to help them overcome the unexpected.

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Originally posted on Forbes

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