An Introduction to Self-Management



Stage 1-2

Agile IQ® Level

Team Setup



Self-management isn’t chaos. It requires management to set guardrails that define the boundaries for team-level actions, behaviours, and expected outputs.

managers role in self-managing teams

Self-management isn’t all or nothing. It has degrees.

Management 3.0 reminds us that self-management has various levels of action. Based on a team’s maturity, a manager might completely delegate action to a team, but might make certain decisions themselves.

When making decisions to support self-management, be consistent. 

Behaviours to encourage

Self-managing teams work within guardrails

Self-management will require managers and leaders to set guardrails for team work, to step back from handing out and delegating tasks, and to promote cross-functional team work.

Working in timeboxes and with agile artefacts are examples of guardrails. Establish which ones are non-negotiable.

Cross-functionality over work done in functional silos

Focus on building a team over having a collection of people who simply coordinate their work. Encouraging cross-functionality will reduce functional silos, reduce handovers between team members, and support team members to work collectively toward team goals over focusing on individual work tasks.

Help managers to manage the work environment and its processes over managing teams and individuals

Delivery effectiveness will increase if managers shift to managing the environment of work and trust and support the team to focus on teamwork to get the job done.

Actions for leaders and scrum masters

Communication improves clarity about why things are changing

Communicate “why” you want teams to be agile – the impacts and outcomes you want from contemporary ways of working.

Choose a framework and just do the basics

Most Stage One teams get traction when they chose an agile framework, like Scrum, and just stick to the basics. 80% of teams start with Scrum – its 5 events, 3 artefacts and 3 roles – make it easy to start with.

This Start Simple pattern is often referred to as Shu in the Shu Ha Ri pattern made famous by agile manifesto founders Martin Fowler and Alastair Cockburn.

Invest time in good team design

  • Build a cross-functional team of up to 10 people.
  • Design the team so they have all the skills they need to deliver their work without having to rely on others outside the team.

Reinforce that work must be transparent

  • Reinforce that work must be transparent. Scrum’s artefacts – the Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog and Increment – are a good place to start.
  • Work with the team’s Product Owner to establish product goals and build the backlog to deliver these.

Bring work to the team over spreading individuals across many projects

  • Ensure the work comes to them over spreading people across multiple projects as this behaviour increases variability and reduces transparency of work.

Work with the team’s Product Owner on establishing goals and setting priorities

  • Work with the team’s Product Owner to establish product goals and build the backlog to deliver these.
  • Shift from handing out tasks or work to individuals to putting those items into the Product Backlog.
  • Work with the Product Owner on setting the priorities

Start making decisions based on the Agile Manifesto

  • Help the team to make decisions that change the the way they work by drawing on the principles of the Agile Manifesto.
  • When a challenging scenario presents itself, consider what the Agile Manifesto and its principles recommend is the best way forward.

Change in work habits occur when you build a desire to change

An awareness that there’s a better way to work comes first, and then a desire to change. For people to change the way they work, you have to determine the “what’s in it for me” factor and promote it. If you’re wanting people to work as a single team over their functional silos then understanding the “why” and “what’s in it for me” is critical to helping them change.

The benefits from agile only come when you change the way you work

Try not to just tweak current work processes. Real improvement requires real change. Choose one thing to change and then commit to changing it. When that shows results, then change the next thing. Iterative improvement helps reduce the stress associated with big change.


1. Hodgson, M. R., and Horrigan, M. B. (2021) Executive Agile Leadership

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