Self-managed teams do not exist

In my early days studying agile, there was this idea about self-managed self-regulatory teams. Leadership was an unnecessary overhead. They don’t need a leader; they only allow smart people like them. Even Steve Jobs talks about them: “if they know what to do, they will figure out how to do it…

I might not be in the same generation as Steve Jobs, but my experience taught me that that’s a lie. Leadership is always present.

The best engineers don’t like to be leaders

In one recent example, one of my customers relied 100% on the team to develop a first version of a web application. He trusted what seemed to be the technical leader. That person was not the leader, nor the team wanted to make the “hard” decisions. What was the outcome? An unreviewed confluence page full of nonsense.

It is not like bright engineers won’t know how to solve something or won’t know how to manage themselves; it is that the brightest engineers I’ve worked with don’t like leadership; they don’t want to be leaders.

They can be very vocal about not liking a team member, even if that fellow coworker is as smart or even more than they are. It is just that they don’t like how other people work… and here comes “leadership” to organize them.

Someone is always leading

If you think your group of engineers will be self-managed, you are living a fantasy. Either you are the technical lead, or you have a product manager, or some of them are taking the lead role. Someone is always leading.


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Leo Celis