You must have heard the benefits of authorizing agile teams, from many sources. Everyone may understand different things from and come up with different explanations about the term ‘authorized team’ that brings to mind different concepts ranging from the team’s self-management of its duties to acceptance of a new member to the team, measurement of its performance, and selection of its own leader. We cannot help saying that autonomy is a feature that is not only granted but also gained by giving confidence. By the way, it should also be borne in mind that extension scope of powers in teams is associated with the team’s maturity. Duty of the leader is not to grant more powers to the teams in the course of time, but to contribute to the maturity of the teams and help them gain new powers by increasing their competencies. In other words, it is almost like raising a child since it requires much effort. Just like parents who have the role of provider of the necessary environment by removing obstacles and intervening, when necessary, when raising children and giving them powers, leaders should also assume such a role in leading their teams to maturity. In teams led by leaders who are not easy-going individuals, it is difficult to contribute to the maturity of the teams and to keep the team members’ adult-level communication going. Moreover, sometime companies are just like secondary education institutions which are home to angry teachers and students as well as psychological violence. (Eric Berne, Transactional analysis, parent-child transaction). And of course, such organizations exhibit very low flexibility in the face of change. So, what is autonomy…
It would not be wrong to say it is effort, endeavour and love…
You may have heard the Off the Grid life. Life away from the city network becomes more popular with the pandemic… You can get electricity, water, sewage services without depending on the community. It is kind of an authorization by the state where you can proceed step by step. Of course, electricity seems to be the principal issue. In a sense, we can call Grid as an autonomous area created for oneself by leaving the Grid. (House construction, budget, tools and equipment are provided by the Grid).
In order for further clarification of what many organizations call an authorized, autonomous team, I think the Off the Grid Agile Team concept will be useful. This is not so different from what we tried to explain several times before with the concepts of garage, stat-up, Agile Team etc. The name is a bit different, and in my opinion, the most critical point is that the team is provided with a budget; you are told that you have an investment budget of 2 Million and your goal is X. You will cover your own expenses such as your salary, tools and equipment you will use, your licenses, premiums etc. from this budget. Be Off the Grid. Let us construct the house and then you can complete it and we will support you wherever you need. Here, Grid means the remaining of the company. We will see what you provide at the end of the day and it should be radical and transparent. Of course, it is not so easy to achieve this in an instant, but we can call it “a good goal” when this becomes the objective with the efforts of the leaders.
I have observed that the obsession with productivity, budget and expenditure of almost all the companies we provide support with is the greatest obstacle to team autonomy. I think the difficulty in breaking the parent-child relation is also associated with this. In fact, in classic organizations, the duty of the manager is to manage for productivity-budget. Therefore, when the team cannot assume budget management, we can say that maturation has somewhat slowed down or come to a standstill. It goes without saying that stereotypical opinions such as the idea that not everybody can manage a budget or invest money in proper channels or demonstrate financial literacy etc. make even the discussion of this issue difficult. On the contrary, in the current system we live in, all people are able to manage their own budgets and hence they can manage the budget to be given by a company, subject to certain limitations and rules and with the support they need to improve their competencies in this regard.
Considering that it will make a great difference for companies, especially the ones desiring to make innovative and explorative works, to make their teams autonomous in terms of investment budget, I tried to explain the Off the Grid Agile Team concept below. This is only an idea for now, but we know that there are many firms with similar applications such as 3M, Lego, Buutzorg, Semco, Xerox, Haier etc.
Off The Grid Agile Team
What is it?
Off the Grid Agile Teams can be established to produce a new product that can completely change the industry, test a hypothesis or improve a process and they work based on Agile principles. See: Agile Manifesto. So, what are their features?
Have a budget
Yes, they have a budget. What I mean here is the ability to allocate a budget to the team, which will also cover the salaries. In other words, if such team consists of 8 members, the management can allocate a budget of 2M for 6 months to this team by specifying what they expect from such team in relation to a certain product. The team is free to purchase any product or equipment they desire, make any travel they wish, i.e. they are free to spend the budget responsibly. (Here, the limitation may be the framework defined by the company).
Free and autonomous
They are not only autonomous but also free to make their own decisions. In such case, it is the choice of the team to decide who to include in or remove from the team. There is no approval process about which vehicle to buy or which visual material to use etc. But, since they are autonomous, the organizational limits should be explained clearly. They should know what not to do, and not what to do. And I think this is sufficient to create the framework and main rules of the work. It is so critical for them to make a contract with the remaining of the company and abide by such contract. These limitations should also be questionable, open to discussion, and modifiable.
They have the necessary competence. This is so classic… And not so different from what we express all the time. The only thing I would add here is that; if you claim that you are very good and work with the best, try to include in such teams the best experts in the field not only from the company but also from around the world. Digital environment already facilitates this… Let also the team include such people by taking into consideration, and not adhering to, the organizational security policies. (Here, I say not adhering to the security policies since they are prepared for the lowest standards and awareness level). This way, these teams can also become more attractive to people in the company, thus increasing the work motivation in these teams.
Information such as the actions taken and not taken, the outcomes, outputs, plans, expenditures etc. should be shared transparently with the stakeholders (and in my opinion, it seems more appropriate to say ‘partner’ rather than ‘stakeholder’ in such a structure).
Part time – Full time?
Full time members are the best, but if this is not possible, it is useful to determine norms and routines as if actually working Part-time at a different company. In other words; we are talking about rules such as working in a certain project/team for 3 days of the week, i.e. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and thus minimizing the non-productivity that may result from other works.
The team can make its own decision in this respect; it is not even necessary to measure anything since the budget will have already been allocated. It is allocated to the teams though, and not to individuals. The only need is to develop a feedback culture in the team.
To which situations it suits?
Initially, it is a good fit for innovative products/services. But, if it is improved and becomes sustainable by the company, why not apply this also to the operation?
What to expect when the project is completed?
The priority is the products/services, not the project. Therefore, what we are talking about here is a concept that has a life cycle, is open to continuous improvement, is alive, and has an operational aspect.
At the beginning, the team must in all cases be advised and clearly told about the alternatives in the case of change to the size of the investment in this field or the general investment decision, upon completion of the work. Below is an example.
- If the product/service is successful, discussions may be held with the team to improve and maintain the product.
- If the product/service will be terminated, but the team is performing well and is willing, a new product/service may be developed with the same method, thereby creating a different story.
- If the product will be terminated and the team is being dissolved, there will not be a big problem since the conditions of such return will have been discussed at the beginning.
But, would the ones returning from Off the Grid not feel bad?
In my opinion, this type of concern is almost like “putting an idea into one’s head”. “Let’s not raise the awareness of the people”. I think such initiatives represent a good “challenge” for the company and company leaders. The trick here is to communicate the issue sincerely and clearly, to minimize any room for questions within the organization. This may be another challenge for those who spend years making decisions behind closed doors and execute these decisions by force or by selling their ideas.
Let’s see whether here they can say “Challenge Accepted!” as Barney utters very often in the series “How I Met Your Mother”
But what will the other people in the organization think?
Yes, they may see this risky and unfair at first, saying “come on now”. But, these journeys are somewhat like the first journeys to the space… Although it seems easy today, in the 50s and 60s, you may not have found too many people willing to put themselves in the shoes of Gagarin or Armstrong. Or think about the adventurers who travelled from Europe to America, and even to San Francisco, the furthest point of America… Such adventure-loving spirit willing to fight against the unknown brought the current recognition to the Silicon Valley. So, what we always need is a little journey to the unknown as well as some inspiration, motivation and magic. And also to brave agile leaders who can meet this need…
Note: If this letter makes you say “come on now”, “it is not possible in our company”, “not realistic”, “how can it be done?”, then it achieved its purpose. Just think about how we also had the same attitude towards many Agile concepts in the past.