Self-management versus employee management

Recently, Kristian Haugaard and I held a workshop for a group of HR leaders in Aarhus, Denmark. It inspired me to reflect on the topic: Which traditional HR or manager tasks could an agile team manage themselves? I have chosen a handful of cases to exemplify the theory:

  • Team composition
  • Employee development
  • Bonus program

Team composition

In many cases, team composition takes place behind closed doors in the management group, with relatively limited involvement of the employees. If you believe in agility and have the courage to give the mandate to the employees, it is a huge victory for agility. I first heard about the concept back in 2012 when Peter Hundermark (Scrum coach from South Africa) let a group consisting of 40+ employees design team composition. Hundermark set up simple rules for the teams before they were allowed to design the composition:

  • Teams should be staffed according to their project’s priority
  • All team members should be 100% allocated to a single team
  • All teams should be cross-functional and be able to solve tasks from start to finish
  • Have a size of 5-9 team members

With great inspiration from Hundermark, I myself have subsequently run workshops according to similar principles:

  • Each team should have a dedicated Product Owner
  • Each team should be able to work with few external dependencies
  • Each team should be cross-functional within their own product backlog
  • Have a size of 5-9 members
  • Management interference is only allowed in case the process stalled
  • The process is facilitated by the agile coach

Some of the comments from the involved were: “Brave of management to let go of control”, “It was good to get involved actively in the process” and “We felt empowered”.

Employee development

A typical task within employee management is the development of competencies at the individual employee. This is typically done through periodic dialogue conversations, employee development interviews, where the employee and the manager agree on goals for the period and actions towards the goals. If the manager does not properly stage the conversations, it can quickly become too formal and and non-value adding for the employee and the company.

In a real self-leading team, employee development takes place as an activity in everyday life. It happens in its basic form without the involvement of an employee leader – at least without this being the primary driver on a format or a cycle. Jurgen Appelo has described a Management 3.0 internship called “Team Competency Matrix” that helps the team identify the necessary skills, describe the level of competence for the individual team members and create an overview of the desired level of competence. When the team has an overview of current competencies and desired level, it is a form of case to define which steps must be taken to move towards the goal. The format I typically use in such workshops is:

  • Review of team vision and product backlog
  • Brainstorm, prioritization and grouping of necessary competencies
  • Classification of competence level for the individual team members (“I can teach others”, “I can work independently”, “I need help”)
  • Identification of desired team level
  • Identification of improvement potential (current level <desired level)
  • Identification of individual action on the way to desired level
  • Follow-up agreement

Some of the following comments from management and team members were: “Great visual overview of our competencies”, “Coherence between the team’s vision and team members’ development” and “Now we can plan competence development into our everyday lives”.

Bonus program

Many jobs offer bonus as a variable element of pay. There are generally two ways in which this bonus can be determined: The company sets up a goal that must be redeemed and rewarded by bonus, or the employee manager sets the employee to a bonus that is either granted or rejected periodically. Experience shows that the bigger and more well-established a company is, the less the individual employee has the opportunity to influence the bonus and its size.

If you work in a self-managing team that delivers measurable products, you can create a transparent bonus scheme that relates to the actual value you have delivered. Guru Mike Cohn and several others have described a method of assigning relative value to work done in a team – the Business Value game. If you know about Story Points then you will be able to relate to this mechanism. The idea behind the mechanism is that everyone in the team participates in a discussion about the relative value a task delivers to the business. It is essential that the value is relative so that you do not directly translate to bottom line or other elements that in some cases do not have relevance to the tasks. A format for Business Value game that I have used frequently:

  • A team member presents a task by describing needs, target group and input for solution
  • Each team member chooses a card with a value between 0 and 1000 for how much value the task contributes
  • Everyone in the team shows their cards at the same time
  • Highest value and lowest value explain the motivation for their choice and clarify any issues
  • Each team member chooses a card with a value between 0 and 1000 for how much value the task contributes
  • Everyone in the team shows their cards at the same time
  • The final value is set as an average

With periodic intervals, the sum of the delivered Business Value is calculated from the team, which gives input to the bonus that is to be shared with them. There are then at least two methods for paying out bonuses: everyone in the team gets the same amount or team members get bonus relative to the Business Value they have delivered.

Some of the subsequent comments from team members were: “I have the opportunity to influence the bonus I get paid”, “It motivates me to know that I create value for the business and that it is being rewarded”.

Get started

Would you like to hear more about the above cases or would you like to know more about the theory behind? Feel free to contact me or one of my colleagues in Ugilic.

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