One of the 12 principles of the Agile manifesto states that “The best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self organizing teams.” But how do you encourage these teams to form and how do you ensure they are sustainable?

Agile practitioners have proved time and again that self-organized teams form the core of Agile execution.

In an instruction-driven model, teams wait for tasks to be allocated, issues are discussed as per schedule and informal interactions are less. This affects the feeling of ownership and impacts the output by the team.

It is believed that if a team is shown trust, given freedom and allowed a less constrained environment, it will respond with high quality and productivity. When teams are empowered to take their own decisions, they self-organize themselves to decide goals, meet them and overcome any dependencies to reach the end goal.

All the empowerment and freedom alone does not ensure the self-organization of a team. Team members who have worked for years in an instruction-driven environment will find it difficult to adapt to this culture quickly. After all, it was much easier for them when the responsibility of decisions rested with the senior members.

In this article, we will discuss certain tricks to self-organize teams and ways to verify if the teams are self-organized and can sustain themselves through most of the problems independently.

Testing the Self-Organization of a Team

Consider an organization forming an Agile team and providing the required training to the team. Roles and responsibilities are agreed upon. Teams are also made aware that full participation is expected from everyone at every step of the project. Assuming that the teams are trained enough and the processes have been explained, the organization now expects them to start executing the project and be self-organized.

The journey begins here.

When to test?

The right time to test the self-organization of a team is when it is in a settled state. Having said this, the testing should not be restricted to the initial life cycle of a project. It should continue throughout the project on an intermittent basis. The prime reason of repeating these tests is that when teams do not face challenges they often go into comfort zones and a "smoother execution of sprints" is considered as the state of being self-organized.

How to test?

One of the ways to check self-organization is to introduce a disturbance in the system. Introducing a disturbance purposely will allow the team to recover safely from the disturbance with no impact on the project progress.

Proposed Disturbance Strategy

Here is a strategy which can induce the required level of self-organization and nurture a team to a more productive state. 


  1. Disturbance: An activity intruding a team’s progress towards its goal.
  2. Observation: Observing a team’s behavior post inducing a disturbance.
  3. Teaser: An idea to create disturbance.
  4. Teaser Stack: List of teasers with prioritization.
  5. Impact: Positive or negative movement towards achieving the goal.

Process Flow

Consider a small example which will help explain the framework easily:

The scrum master for a project observes that the team is too dependent on her and doubts if it can perform well in her absence. So, she decides to take a leave for some time to check if the team can function efficiently in her absence. She asks a team member (in confidence) to observe the team’s behavior in her absence. The team mate passes on information about the team and the issues being faced by her absence.

If she feels that the team is getting too affected by her absence, she will return immediately else she will remain absent for the planned duration."

Figure 1: Process flow of Disturbance Strategy

Once she returns, she analyzes her team’s behavior and later, over a team retrospective, reveals the intent behind her absence. The team can then discuss as to what went well, what did not go well and what can be improved upon."

The table below shows every step of the process for teaser identification and implementation in disturbance strategy in relation to the above example.