One of the best pieces of feedback I ever received when leaving an organization was – “The team is running fine on it’s own, I don’t think we’re going to need to hire someone to replace you.”
At first glance, I did feel that familiar twinge of failure that made me feel as though my position was not as valuable as I once thought it was and because of that they thought – why replace dead weight?
Upon further thoughts (and deep breathing), I came to realize that this was in fact the opposite. What I had become a part of was a self-organizing team that could self-manage on their own and no longer needed direct leadership on a daily basis.
I’d like to say getting there was easy, but it wasn’t, it took close to two years to get there and it took a lot of working with the team, establishing trust, committing to a vision and realizing that everyone was in it together to make it happen.
We had our setbacks, but we made sure we always learned from them and got better.
When I think of this success there are a number of things we did that made it possible;
- If one person was staying late, everyone stayed late – we were always in it together.
- Regular one-on-ones helped the team to trust me and me to trust them, as well as identifying where I could help them out with their goals of what they wanted to work on.
- No matter the release, we knew where we were headed and everyone knew their roles. Our roles evolved between projects, but who did what, we were always clear on.
- We celebrated the failures together – too many examples to list here, but when something went wrong, there was always something that went right that got us there. Realizing these was what made us stronger.
- Learning was a focus of our team – everyone was always learning and as such that required sharing that learning with everyone.
- Process was minimal – we did what was needed to get the job done – we kept it simple.
There are probably a few other rules, but early in the process, I think the greatest success was when we boiled it down to one statement that idealized not only what we were building but also who we were. This statement became our mantra and whenever faced with a decision, we always evaluated based on which category it fell into. If it didn’t fall into any of these categories, we turfed it.
Keep It Simple. Keep It Sexy. Keep It Stable.
It doesn’t have to be complicated, the hard part is realizing that building your team into this can be better than you leading them.