Cross-Functional AND Self-Organized

Back in elementary school when everyone was out at recess (do they even have that anymore?), Red Rover was a classic game. Red rover, red rover, send Samantha right over.

Whoever’s turn it was, why did they pick Samantha first? Maybe she was a timid child and whoever called her name knew that running at a line of children holding hands might not be her cup of tea. (Remember, if she didn’t break through, Samantha joined your team.) Maybe the child knew that Samantha was a good runner and they wanted to see just how easily she’d break through the clasped hands.

It’s hard to say.

Red Rover may be all about the sheer number of people on your team, but each time a child is called over to give it their all in breaking through the clasped hands, that person called was picked for a reason.

When you’re working within a Scrum team, the hope is that your teammates have all the necessary skills to get the work done. You only want to be holding hands (metaphorically speaking) with the very best.

Understanding the difference between cross-functional teams and self-organized teams will give you and your group a better understanding of how these kind of teams can seriously affect Scrum relationships and how when they’re formed just right, organizations can be extremely agile.

Cross-Functional Success

Teams are comprised of more than just one person. Don’t worry, it can’t only be you. And when there is more than just one person, strengths (and weaknesses) are bound to be varied.

Some individuals might be great at coding. Others may be better at drawing conclusions from the analytics. Even yet, there are people who write documentation in a way that you never could. You don’t have to have all of these skills in your own skill set. The beauty of a cross-functional Scrum team means that as a team, you all can handle it all. Think of cross-functional as “collective.” With all of your skills and all of your assets, you’re self-contained. You all are good to go and are ready to pave the way forward, working together collaboratively and collectively.

The thinking behind cross-functionality stems from the fact that maybe it doesn’t make so much sense to have a whole team of testers, a whole team of analysts, a whole team of coders, etc. If there happens to be a lull, what will these teams of individuals do in the meantime? Why so many brains for a single style of work? When you have a cross-functional team, you’re each able to handle a piece of the pie whenever the pie gets delivered. And the hope is that whichever part of the pie is your to tackle, you’re the best one for the job.

Most Scrum teams won’t be completely cross-functional. That’s totally normal and totally okay. Oftentimes, if there is a spot or an area of focus that is lacking in brainpower, teams can bring in Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who can help fill the void.

Self-Organized Success

Self-organized, on the other hand, means how the team is going to do the work it needs to do within the framework of the business they’re working with. Depending on how the organization works, there may be certain rules, and the self-organized team is held to the same rules and standards as the rest of the organization, but with self-organization, the team gets to do work in a way that suits their very own needs.

Self-organized may seem like each person determines what they should do, but this actually means that the team reframes and re-organizes frequently how they’ll accomplish what work needs to get done. When they find ways of working that are successful, they keep working that way. If they’re eager to try another way of taking care of business, they’re free to explore the new avenue.

Basically, a team that is self-managing oversees its own internal working rather than being told by a higher-up how things should look and work. So, the team as a unit is self-organized and self-managed, but not self-directed. They do get instructions on which way they should head. Their priorities are still the same as the organization and they’re still trying to accomplish certain elements.

“Who, what, where, when, why, and how”  may be at the heart of certain projects and endeavors. In the self-organized teams, parsing out which features they focuses on may help.

A self-organized team will focus on the “how” and the “who,” but they don’t focus on the “what” or the “why.” The latter questions belong to the organization or the business as a whole. In some instances, the Product Owner or the Business Owner will handle these questions, both the asking of it and the implementation of how things will work in finding an answer.

As you might imagine, self-organization depends on interpersonal relationships, but cannot find any foundation within that which is vague. What we mean by this is that just because someone doesn’t like doing something a certain way or if is an attitude of “we don’t do it that way…because we just don’t,” don’t give it any airtime. This is not scrummish behavior. If situations arise like this and matters need to be addressed, it’s helpful to find the information and practices embedded through Retrospection and Introspection to come to a newer conclusion and move on from there. Scrum teams work best when everyone is aware of their role and also the framework of how being agile is accomplished.

When self-organization and cross-functionality are combined together, this can be the cross section of truly remarkable success. For those who are forming teams in a variety of sectors or who are looking for newer dynamics to improve camaraderie, work ethic, and productivity, finding ways to increase cross-functionality and self-organization will surely help you outperform your competition time after time.