Leading a Self-Managing Team

25 Jun

Last week one of our top engineers approached me directly to talk about his performance on a new product we are days away from announcing (here is my Tellago Studios plug ;)). Apparently, he had noticed that we were been driving extremely hard to make our launch date and he was concerned that he had been regularly missing some of the deadlines assigned to him. More importantly, while being very critical about his performance he presented a very comprehensive plan about how to improve the quality of his deliverables.


As a CEO, you can’t avoid but feel proud when you see that level of self-criticism and honesty coming from your team. This is even more remarkable considering that we have a lot of flexibility in terms of our deadlines. Even though we have a set launch date and we are operating on weekly iterations with well-defined deliverable, we have the flexibility of pushing some deliverable to future iterations without affecting the overall execution of the product.

After adding a few suggestions, I approved the plan my engineer presented and gave him complete control over the decisions related to that area of the product. I literally asked him to become the CEO of that part of the product. The entire conversation didn’t last longer than 10 minutes and I am already seeing the improvements in our execution model. The reason I was so conformable making that decision is because, long time ago, I realized that these group of engineers worked so well together that didn’t need any level of management: they are a self-managing team. Regardless of the level of talent we pride ourselves to bring in Tellago Studios, I haven’t been able to build a self-managing team until we assembled the team for this specific product.

During the 1992 Olympics, legendary coach Chuck Daly told the members of the USA Basketball Dream Team, that he was intending to go through the tournament schedule without calling a single time-out. Think about it, regardless of the superior talent of “The Dream Team” you could almost be certain that they will face unforeseen situations during specific games that will force the coach to call a timeout to make the necessary adjustments. After all, no other Dream Team has been able to do this despite their superior basketball talent. The reason Chuck Daly was able to lead the Dream Team all the way to the gold medal without calling a single time out wasn’t only because of their remarkable basketball skills, but rather because they were a self-managing team. Any combination of players on the floor knew how to make the necessary adjustments and changes without having to rely on the coach. There were no egos and all the players had a lot of respect for each other and they were striving towards the single goal: bring the gold medal back to the USA.

Building a self-managing is almost impossible. You need right combination of exceptional talent, passion, hunger to win, a great team dynamics and an incredible humbleness to work with other super talented individuals and make the necessary sacrifices or adjustments to accomplish the task at hand. More importantly, in a software development scenario, a self-managing team only works well in a context on which the team members can have enough ownership over different areas of the product that allow them to execute based on their own vision.

As a leader to a self-managing team your task is extremely simple: set the vision and the game plan, trust your team and get out of the f….. way That’s certainly what I’ve been doing with this current group and I am having a blast. Establishing management layers in a self-managing team will only hurt their productivity, introduce bureaucracy and harm their creative and leadership skills.

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Posted by on June 25, 2012 in Uncategorized


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