How to set up self-managed project teams successfully?

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Self-directed project teams, it sounds great! Where exactly do you start if you, as a program manager, want to introduce this methodology into your organization? 

How do you strengthen your adaptability as a company?

It is very important for companies to move with, adapt and in some cases reinvent themselves (in parts). This reinvention begins by trusting that the power of adaptability on both sides will create new successful services, developments and efficient processes. Say well-oiled, well-matched machines, delivering output in ways that may be different from before, but certainly no less good because of that.

So how should companies and management ensure that that well-oiled machine will be there, that it will be built? Very simple; you don't do that as a company and as management in the traditional top-down manner. Instead, ensure that you create an environment in which something is allowed to develop, an environment filled with confidence in and encouragement for employees. In addition, ensure that you continue to provide input and guidance on the one hand and/or demand clear output on the other. Steering by providing direction, concrete goals and frameworks as management and output for example in the form of deliverables, sales or assignments or more abstractly, services, income and/or (future) revenues.

The underlying theory of self-directed project teams

The concept of my rock-solid trust is also deeply anchored in the principles of Agile in theory of Systems Thinking and Complex Adaptive Systems. Before descending to the pragmatic handles and the relationship with self-managing teams, it is good to first explain the two theories in a somewhat simplified way.

Ok, so 'systems thinking' is the process of understanding how certain dynamic things influence and touch each other within a whole. Examples of this can be found in everyday things; such as nature in which different elements such as water, plants, movements and animals work together to (over)live or die out. Within organizations, for example, these are the people, buildings and machines and (work) processes that work together to keep a company running and growing healthily.

A 'complex adaptive system' is a system whose interconnected components have the ability to adapt not only to each other, but also to other adaptive systems. It possesses a high degree of adaptability and self-organisation, as a result of which it is not easily hindered by 'disturbances' from outside.

Self-managing teams are needed during this remote working situation

This is where the emphatic link with self-managing project teams that are constantly able to "reinvent" themselves when the situation demands it. Like in the times we work and live in now. Because if you want to remain successful as a company in these times, with so many people working at home, then the creation of self-managing teams is almost a must. And if your organisation was not yet ready and you still operated from a top-down approach, then this is the time to rediscover yourself as a company.

Back to creating an organisation that allows "adaptive systems" to emerge. An organisation in which people work together on the basis of trust. Where creativity and positivity are cherished. Where do you start? Give direction to your teams, communicate your interests and trust that something beautiful will arise. An organised link of people who take on work at set times and in a regular manner, in changing organisational contexts and then deliver valuable output. Do not act out of fear and excessive control, but give the space as management, so that within that space ideas and creative solutions can grow like germinating seeds. Just as that seed needs air to grow, we need people's 'mental headspace' and moments of rest. Facilitate your employees to use the right tools and communication in a whole new work environment, with new appointments and for example adjusted working hours. This can range from a sound-absorbing headset (saves duck tape for the kids) to software such as Slack, Teams or Zoom to easily connect with colleagues and customers. 

Tips for management

Managers and board members I would ask to think carefully about clear, measurable success criteria for the time ahead. Give direction, not vague directions. In doing so, don't close your eyes to potential long-term success or promising explorations, and don't stop something too soon! The system should also have a chance to form itself. Share best practices, what works, what doesn't? By being transparent about this, systems can take this into account in their formation. Finally, don't forget one thing: past results are no guarantee for the future. At the same time: what did not work in the past may now be very successful in the changing environment. The final important task for managers and executives is to look at what has emerged and to nurture and further encourage and nurture that which works excellently. Now that is real value creation!

The self-managing project teams of MOJEO

As I am editing this article at my home office, with the garden doors wide open, another team of colleagues is in the background testing a new service, the virtual project manager from several self-directed project teams. A virtual resource for all your challenges. This came about completely spontaneously, partly out of necessity and also because we get a lot of requests for help from our clients and people want our expertise and you obviously can't have physical meetings. Meanwhile, we are all logging in and testing at the same time. So a completely new service is being launched and established within a day. Is this service going to be successful? We think so given the questions. Will this service last forever? No idea! Is it going to contribute to our way of working in general? Absolutely!

Anyway, this is a very nice example of something that happens when the situation calls for it and the environment is created in which it is allowed. Well, I would almost say, see you soon?

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