How to move a team into be self-lead/autonomous?


How hard is it for a team to transition from a scrum model with PO at the center to a self lead antonymous model of feature uncovering and refinement? What have people used that has worked? If the team is able to regularly have interaction with the clients how can the chaos be channeled? Obviously some vision from on high about the broad strokes, but what is the little picture stuff?


i’m writing a serious response, but in the interim…“Broad Strokes by Brad Stokes” should be the name of your blog. I expect royalties :smile:


My first reflex is to tackle your question with another question: How hard is it to transition a person with fair coding skills into an excellent software developer?

From my point of view a self empowered team is a matter of experience (as it is to be an excellent developer). Being able to handle requirements and chaos from clients requires experience on the subject matter, but also on the way the team interacts and collaborates to maintain the robustness. Depending on the skills, the understanding, and the behavior of the individuals it can be quite easy to get there or it can be really hard up to impossible. Irrespective, the way forward will be via retrospectives, from which the team will learn, and a lot of trust that they will make their way, as they have to be able to fail to gather the relevant experience. Also this can be very hard for a manager :wink:

P. S. I just have posted a reply to another thread, which addresses the difference between ways managers handle unexperienced teams and self-empowered teams. You might want to have a look at it as well:


I read it. I have a little bit of a conundrum, which was why I asked the question.

I have a new team. Tuesday will mark the close of sprint 3. I have another member to add in the upcoming month or two at this point probably a tester with solid development experience. So the team isn’t yet stable.

I’m team lead, but have operated very much in a scrum master role and using scrum structures (with slight deviations such as using 3 amigos with friends for refinements).

My PO is stretched (supports 2 teams, works part time and has been made responsible for documentation and help). I’ve been needing to use a combo of or head of IT and PO to do refinement. It has worked realatively well. Energy in the office is up. The team is gelling and we are getting there.

However two thing are coming up. Our Head of IT has moved on as of Friday. We are hiring a replacement but the new role obviously won’t have the familiarity with the product and that isn’t an option and to be fair at least a month off. Add to this our PO is on holiday for 1 month in a week. Our backlog is healthy and we have work to do. So I’m not terrified, but I need to help the team with this.

I’m probably the most senior person in the office, but my style is enablement not control. And my shoulders are only so large.

Management is happy to support us in decisions we make and is ok with experimentation (this I really appreciate) we don’t have access to super large numbers of users, but we do have access to some of our sales team who are both up to date and using the product themselves. So all is not lost.

The question is, what are other structures/frameworks that could help us as the shift of having the team own this is likely to be semi permanent.

We will still be working very heavily with the PO for vision and guidance, but the situation is such that the team more or less need to own things.

How do I support my team through the transition? We are running super useful retros. What else can I do? What should I be reading and looking at? Thanks in advance.


Looks like there are many things going on in your business!

Anyhow, I still wonder where you struggle exactly. What are the expectations towards the team and the deliverables?

Your environment is pretty busy, but I do not see how that affects the team if the team itself is healthy and the backlog filled with reasonable stories as you said.

a) your Head of IT has moved on
b) your PO is stretched
c) your team is pretty new (still has to get used to your environment)
d) your clients are supposed to interact with your team frequently

P. S. My gut guess would be that you are looking for a way forward to handle requirements and clients in a better way, where the missing Head of IT and the insufficient capacities of your PO are worrying you.


Hmmm, you might be right About many things going on.

Majority of the team have been in the office and company for at least 12 months. So whilst the team is newly formed, we are all pretty used to the pace.

We are shipping working code and we have done a tonne in the last month. I’m happy with current progress.

What I’m concerned about is going forward I lost a key person in helping ensure the health of the backlog and requirements.

Moving forward, I feel, we need to uncover some way to keep up the health of our stories and to surface requirements at team level with broad vision being provided our existing PO.

I’m looking for ways to help this happen and trying to find ways that will work for the team.

I am worried that story quality will fall (it is currently a really nice balance from a dev and testing standard). Being proactive and avoiding a descent to something worse is the main aim. There is support to allow the team more autonomy, I’m trying to figure the how.


Your team and the company seems to be pretty healthy. It sounds like a real good basis for fostering some change. Many others are struggling with the environment already, so you can be happy about it and focus on improvements.

What is your team thinking about the the demission of your Head of IT? Do they share your concerns about health of the backlog and requirements?

If you not did so already, I would setup a dedicated session with your team. This should not be one of your “standard” meeting, as it is about creating a sense of urgency to implement changes in your team. You might want to invite the PO as well, as the change will affect him as well. Literally he is part of the team as well. Use this session to let everyone in the team (including you) share their concerns. You should (have) come up with an align sense of urgency from it.

If you have created a common understanding, I would start to look for the key stakeholders, who are affected most and can be drivers of a change. You will need their support if you want to transform the way the team is working. Collect the expectations and start to plan actions with them, which will lead to a change addressing your concerns.

Now it will be your task to take action to ensure that the plan can be implemented. If you find out, that you are lacking skills or capacities, you might talk to you management about the successor of the Head of IT. You should be able to deliver concrete requirements by then, as you know the demand and the urgency. You should also can think about bringing temporary support to the team from a trainer or subject matter expert, if the team raises concerns being able to deliver. Finally you should make the change a regular topic of your retrospectives, as you will have many learnings with you and your team. Make sure they are considered continuously and you improve based on them.

All in all I think it is a real nice challenge you are facing. You have the chance too learn a lot new things about you and your team right now. I love this kind of chances as you can make use of them to become better. Sorry for your former Head of IT, but he probably did a big favor to you.

P. S. if you look for a book, I would point you to “Leading Change” by John P. Kotter. Since this book has been written, there seems to be a widely accepted understanding how change works and how it has to be implemented. It would give you a deep dive into what I just sketched out above.


What @hdietrich said!


Another thought would be clarity around decision making… moving things from “leader makes all decisions” to a more distributed model.

Jurgen Apello has a model: Delegation Poker - with seven levels of granularity:

David Marquet has his “Ladder of Leadership”:

Both are a bit too granular or abstract for the teams I’m coaching; I’ve narrowed it down to four levels, but with the same underlying principles, clarity, trust, safety, and the building of competence:


These have been fantastic to read. I’m away for a week of holidays. I plan to spend some time reflecting and digesting the ideas above. The sprint has been planned and I trust them to do what they need to in my (and my PO’s) absence. We’ll reevaluate at the end of the sprint where we are. Small steps.

Thank you guys!