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Self Managing Teams

hier geht’s zur deutschen Übersetzung: Selbst-organisierte Teams [de]

I was asked about Self-Managing Teams… my answer got a little longer than anticipated. I think it’s worth reading – so: have fun!

I use this picture as my guiding visualization and structure:

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Perhaps it helps you follow my thoughts and elaboration on the topic. Start in the left top corner and go clockwise.

Common Goal

Important starting point in the discussion of self managing teams is the topic of having a common goal. That is a precondition for a group of people to become a team. And not only being given one, but also aligning and committing to a common goal, which might be different from the one that was given to them. The aligned common goal gives the people the direction to aim for and meaning to contribute for. 


People on a self managing team have interest in communication and communication skills, they work on them, improve them. Important aspects might be: 

  • continuous alignment
  • giving and receiving feedback
  • conflict handling strategies

Your role as leaders would mean to help them learn these communication skills. 


By the term “inclusiveness” I mean openness to others, in the team and outside the team. This implies…

  • radical knowledge sharing: if you know something and get the idea that it might be useful to others, then you share it. Regularly we share our own struggles and thoughts so that others can connect and contribute their knowledge. That’s one reason why we share so often about our own state of mind.
  • acceptance of other people with their individual personalities, needs, characteristics, goals, independent of my own opinion and biases. 
  • even more: celebration of diversity! This means embracing diversity as a chance for growing and learning through the colorful variety of different frames of reference: the team can accomplish more than the sum of its individuals. 
  • conflict-openness: the more differences you bring into a group of people the more opportunities of conflict arise. Though we people usually don’t like conflict, teach yourself to be open and take conflict as some part on the way to understanding and learning. You can learn to agree to disagree: while we disagree (and have a conflict here) we still respect each other and respect the fact that we have different opinions

What you can do as a leader…

  • encourage others and give room and time to share knowledge and experiences, thoughts and feelings
  • reflect and make yourself aware what you marvel the people around you for. Not only the ones that you like but in particular those that you have hard times connecting to. 
  • give Kudos to people’s behaviors, invite to Kudo-Sessions, make Kudos a regular part of your leadership


I don’t know if I should call it responsibility or ownership. And this is what I mean: internally motivated fully taking on the ownership of a topic that matters. There never is “not my job” or “I didn’t see or know”. 

Hard to live up to this goal as an individual, even harder to achieve as a team. 

  • agree on becoming a responsible team that takes full ownership of their topics 
  • set and define your standards
  • keep each other responsible in a respectful way
  • contribute all, live and learn it together

This is kind of recursive here: as a team taking on self management requires ownership of different aspects of team-management, which itself includes the ownership-aspect for the team.

Clear Structures

Clear structures give simplicity in collaboration. Well, that’s wrong: collaboration between people is never simple, but defining some clear structures and rules takes out some of the complexity:

  • clear processes to follow (where possible and helpful)
  • negotiated and self defined team norms
  • clear empowerment
  • clear decision making strategies

Lots to do, huh?

Continuous Learning Culture

In a self managing team that aims for performance, or even high performance, relentless improvement and continuous learning is the standard. And it’s pursued by the team members. It is done in a various ways: attending formal trainings, informal self learning activities, team learning sessions, organization of wide open-mic sessions, events and meetings for feedback, retrospectives, user group or conference attendance and contribution, open source project contribution, and more.

With the full power of an open learning and failure culture also comes the abandoning of a blaming culture in an organization. As a leader go the first step and show your failures and vulnerabilities. Show your own mindest and trust in the organization.

Supportive environment

Organizational change requires management support to build up an environment that encourages the change and helps people and teams perform it in their own way. As a leader, build up this supportive environment as the basis for great teams to grow, prosper, swell:

  • get out of their way
  • listen to them, carefully and whole heartedly
  • get (silly) organizational rules out of their way
  • become a true leader that serves the team
  • help others to develop their leadership skills and become true leaders


Simon Sinek defines a team as a group of people who trust each other. Trust is the basis for a healthy high performing team. You cannot force trust. You can only build up conditions as a leader, that trust can grow and flourish. My two cents that I offer here are…

  • focus on values and principles that people honor and connect to
  • be a conscious and integer leader: true to yourself, true role model, true responsibility and ownership of your stuff, open in case of you own failure (and you do make them, sure!), be humble and respectful

Alternatively, on the other hand, you can always destroy trust. Be aware of you actions and impact. Choose. 

All of this is to be learned and tried out and trained and failed and clarified and adapted and tried again… to one day be accomplished to succeed! Have fun on your journey! … and I look forward to your comments and feedback 🙂

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