The notion of a self-organizing team runs deeply in the agile community. However, there is a flip side to self-organization, one which agile teams often forget—self-discipline. Just as freedom and responsibility go hand-in-hand in a democracy, so do self-discipline and self-organization. Companies cannot empower teams that do not want to be empowered—those who are populated with individuals who refuse to accept any accountability for results, those who refuse to confront reality, those who gravitate to their cubicles and refuse to engage with other team members, those who are unwilling to accept team decisions, and those who disrespect colleagues.
Jim Collin (Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t) presents three key ideas about what he calls a culture of discipline: “Build a culture around the idea of freedom and responsibility, within a framework. Fill that culture with self-disciplined people who are willing to go to extreme lengths to fulfill their responsibilities. Don’t confuse a culture of discipline with a tyrannical disciplinarian.”
Christopher Avery has also influenced my thinking on self-discipline. Christopher says, “I can control me (at least some of the time). Therefore, to improve teamwork, I need to improve me.” Hence the title of his book, (Teamwork is an Individual Skill: Getting Your Work Done When Sharing Responsibility).
I must admit, I’d often thought of teamwork as a, well, team effort. We’ve all been through team building sessions, which are valuable, but I really had to stop and think about “to improve teamwork, I need to improve me.” Christopher added to two additional ideas—another that was relatively traditional, and one with another new twist. First, “I am accountable for results and tasks that I have agreed to accept.” This one is fairly traditional, I’ve used it in my list of characteristics of self-discipline. But the second is different, it expands the boundaries of self-discipline—“I am responsible for ALL the relationships within my project community.” While many people have talked about the need for close communication and collaboration, Christopher’s statement is much more specific, and demanding—“I am responsible for ALL the relationships.”
Innovation and creativity come from interaction within teams of individuals. Interaction and synergy are driven by relationships. When every team member works on and takes responsibility for relationships it powers innovation, creativity, and performance. When teams contain members except this challenge as part of their self-discipline, performance increases significantly.