Jan 112010

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.


Jim Highsmith

Jim Highsmith was the founding director of Cutter Consortium's Agile Product & Project Management practice.


  5 Responses to “Self-discipline and Self-organization”

  1. […] Pro Tweets New blog post: Self-discipline and Self-organization http://blog.cutter.com/2010/01/11/self-discipline-and-self-organization/ cuttertweets – Mon 11 Jan 23:00 0 votes All Things […]

  2. Short, concise and very good article. The alternative title should be more like – why Agile fails in multinational companies. During my fragile Agile experience I came to conclusion that I always need to control my self-discipline, seed respect inside team-members and emphasis courage as a team quality. In many situations courage came as a personal quality and team is looking for self-organization while things should be exactly in reverse. Everybody should grow self-discipline and bring courage as a team quality that emerge into self-organization, commitment and responsibility. Most of the times, personal courage turn quickly into useless bravery.

  3. […] Self-discipline & self-organization – Cutter Consortium Fellow, Jim Highsmith, emphasizes the need for discipline and excellence on Agile teams. […]

  4. Hi,
    A GOOD article indeed
    Self-discipline is a very critical concept which is directly related to any organization’s productivity. An organization benefits when its employees start practicing self-discipline at work as it becomes less necessary for the managers to impose discipline externally. It encourages healthy professional relationships to thrive and creates an environment of dedication amongst the employees.
    Please visit our Blogs and share your views with us matters of similar concern and please do keep posting

    Thanks and Regards
    Ruhi Desai,
    Senior Business Development Manager @ Sapience Analytics Pvt Ltd

  5. […] at Cutter Jim Highsmith has some good reminders around Self-discipline and Self-organization. Short, simple and […]

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