A Manager’s Guide to Self Managing Teams

An agile team that finds its groove is a precious thing. A group of smart diverse people, passionate about their shared purpose, openly collaborating and continually experimenting can do amazing things. They don’t need managing in the traditional sense so what can leaders/managers who work with these teams do to help them?

Don’t tell Ask?

Questions are your most powerful tool. A strong team will thrive on them. Trying to tell an autonomous team what to do will be received with disdain, and they may use it as a scapegoat for any even vaguely related problems. What you can do is ask questions that will help them think in a rigourous way about their choices. Ask the awkward questions that they might be ignoring. What is the benefit to x related to its cost? By questioning in this way you can encourage them to think more critically and avoid becoming complacent.

Share your experiences

You’ve come along way and (perhaps inadvertently) done plenty of experiments yourself. Your unique experiences as a manager has shaped the way you see what they do. Share your alternative perspective for them to consider and challenge. What problems or opportunities can you see that they haven’t?

Help them connect

Your connections are gold-dust. Many development teams don’t have access to the rest of the company the way you do. Or perhaps they don’t have the confidence or social skills to reach out to the people they need. Help them to connect. Become a network builder.

Talk about your customers and competitors

When you spend all day in the code you quickly lose perspective about what’s important to your customers. Hearing first hand about their problems and needs connects the team with their purpose and is a huge motivator. You might also want to talk about competitors and show what they’re doing too.

Talk about purpose

Ask where they see the value in what they are doing. Who will benefit? How will it change their lives? Talk about where you see the value and let them challenge your assumptions. Together you can build a strong shared purpose.

Learn and share

If the team is continually experimenting, you’re in a fantastic position to learn from their discoveries. Some of this knowledge will be useful to other teams, some to different departments. Use your connections to help radiate the learning for each team. Become a conduit.

Trust and respect

Working with teams openly like this will help develop a healthy trusting relationship. This trust leaves you both confident to discuss difficulties openly rather than hide them away. Respect emerges because it’s deserved rather than being based on position. You’re on the road to an organisation that continually learns, and as your business changes at an increasingly rapid rate, that will give you a real advantage.


  1. […] A Manager’s Guide To Self Managing Teams Written by: Tom Howlett […]

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