Semi-Autonomous Teams

Teams have the freedom and responsibility to do what’s needed to create value and to decide how.

Each team is allocated a specific area of VSHN, providing them with a domain of influence, work, and decision-making. This freedom to decide and do things how they think works best also comes with the responsibility to do so effectively, contributing to the overall purpose and objectives of VSHN (see Alignment). Therefore, such a team is semi-autonomous. An important factor is that the potential workload usually exceeds the team’s capacity, making prioritization essential - time is made by selecting the right tasks. Balancing work from different sources and finding the equilibrium between operational work and improving team organization and working methods is crucial. It’s never just one thing or the other; it’s usually both and more, and breaking down larger efforts into manageable pieces for iterative work is a common approach. Teams often have dedicated roles such as Product Owners, Facilitators, or Scrum Masters to help in finding this balance and fostering continuous improvement.

Those who delegate a domain to the team retain overall accountability, which means if the team encounters issues they can’t address on their own, or if they fail to recognize them, the delegator may need to provide support, empower the team, or even object to current activities. The delegator must continuously maintain a high-level understanding of whether the team is functioning and delivering as expected and required.

What is a Team?

A team is a group of individuals united by a shared purpose and common goals, actively collaborating to achieve these objectives. Unlike a mere grouping of individuals each working independently, a team leverages collaboration and synergy, enhancing overall productivity and effectiveness.

In our organization, a Team exists when the Delegator defines - usually in a close collaborative effort with the people who form the team - the Domain and then delegates it to a group of people. Through this act of Delegation, they become a Team. This isn’t a one-time action; as the Delegator remains overall accountable for the outcomes of the Team, they need to periodically review how things are going, make changes, and enable the Team. This process continues as long as the Team exists.


VSHN Teams

Most VSHN members belong to a fixed Team, typically based on their Main Role. These teams are named after navigation stars (list 1, list 2), as decided in our internal forum discussion.

See Teams at VSHN for an overview of all Teams and VSHNeers.

Other Forms of Teams

Apart from fixed teams, VSHN consists of other circles with different objectives and structures:

  • Work Groups - Comprising fixed members, governance representatives, and flexible members assisting with operational work.

  • The Board of VSHN - A group of representatives responsible for the overall Domain of VSHN.

Fundamental Responsibilities

Each Semi-Autonomous team at VSHN shares a set of fundamental responsibilities in addition to their unique key responsibilities that come with their specific team purpose. Agreeing on how you ensure these responsibilities in the team is Governance while doing the ongoing administrative, coordination and other actual work to ensure them is Operations. Addressing these responsibilities good enough ensures a functional team.

  • Prioritization and Planning: Plan your work according to the different inputs for prioritization and a have way to handle unplannable work. See also Balancing and Prioritization.

  • Capacity Management: Teams manage scheduling of FTE, shifts and vacations to ensure optimal capacity to be able to deliver their planned and unplanned work.

  • Transparency: Ensure documentation and flow of information. We make our work, progress and results visible and inform affected people proactively.

  • Review results: We work to achieve outcomes, that are effective to deliver value to our stakeholders. The Team has a way to get stakeholder (customer) feedback on what provides how much value and what needs to change or come next (for example sprint reviews with customer representation).

  • Coordination and Communication: Manage working interfaces on the dependencies to the rest of the organization and customers, and ensure effective communication so that cross-team and customer collaboration works.

  • Objective Setting and Alignment: Teams define their own OKRs and get consent by Delegator, monitor their progress, and adjust as needed to align with VSHN’s overall goals. Some teams further maintain a roadmap of their product, that aligns with actual customer need and the product vision. See Company Alignment.

  • Clarify Responsibilities: Ensure that team internal responsibilities are clear, meaning that what needs to be taken care of (for example these Fundamental Responsibilities) are taken care of continuously, often by defining roles within the team.

  • Delegator Dialog: Teams maintain an ongoing dialogue with their Delegator, reviewing their domain periodically to align expectations, constraints and results based on team purpose and objectives.

  • People Topics: Teams address personal issues internally or in collaboration with central People Operations.

  • Talent and Skill Management: Teams identify skill gaps, ensure needed training and education, and promote continuous learning to maintain proficiency.

  • Continuous Improvement: Teams conduct retros on how they account for their domain and these fundamental responsibilities, and implement improvements in their processes and ways of working, to become more efficient and effective in delivering on their purpose.

This is a list of the most important responsibilities, there might be more. We see this as the minium that needs to happen in all teams, how and to what extend depends on the purpose, size and other factors of the team. The Delegator must not accept that one of these responsibilities isn’t addressed good enough, see The big risk with Leadership in every chair.

Balancing and Prioritization

Fortunately, we always have more work than we can do in the time we have. This gives us the opportunity to decide what we should do first, what is most effective - Making time for what is needed now and most effective.

At VSHN, and more importantly in every team, we have to prioritize what we spend our time on. We see it as an anti-pattern if individuals simply decide for themselves what to work on, or simply do what they like. As a team, all members share the overall accountability to contribute to VSHN as by the responsibilities delegated to them. This means, you as a team have to figure out, what is most important and most urgent, and do that first. That being said, we try to create some slack in the system to have room to play with cool things and learn. This not only applies to actual tasks, every team has to balance between Governance and Operations, for to deliver on their purpose, but also to ensure the Fundamental Responsibilities are covered.

The Team decides on priorities, based on reasoned arguments. There might be roles that lead and guide this, like a Product Owner, Scrum Master, or a Team Facilitator.

Inputs to Prioritization

See Alignment, these are the main inputs for you to decide on priorities.

  • Your team’s domain defines the long-term purpose, you’ve to deliver on that. That basically frames your overall work, what you do, your customers, and gives you general enabling or limiting constraints.

  • In Product-based teams, the roadmap gives you priority on what’s the next feature, etc.

  • Your Team Level OKRs create focus, motivation, help to track progress, and help you to prioritize. Doing OKRs itself isn’t the work though, it’s about how what you do, or should do, helps you to reach your objective.

There is no either we do OKRs, Roadmap or our other work. It’s about finding the balance! While it’s an option to shift focus over time, it’s never 100% this or that.

Creating or Changing a Team

It’s important to note that a team doesn’t simply exist because people group together. There needs to be a common purpose. If they have this shared purpose, they are already a team, even without a documented domain description. See What is a Team. However, documenting the delegation agreement makes it explicit, creates clarity and shared understanding, and enables us to evaluate and evolve a domain by reviewing its effectiveness.

So, creating a Team means Creating and Delegating a Domain. Changing a Team means Reviewing the Domain of a Team. Both are collaborative efforts, a dialogue between the Delegator and the Delegatees (the existing or to-be-created group of people).

A team is considered functional by the organization if they deliver on their purpose and have all Fundamental Responsibilities addressed well enough.

People Changing Teams

It’s always possible for people to move from one team to another, fully (100% of the workload) or part-time, long-term or temporarily. This is a change for both teams; it’s essentially a Tension based review of both teams, an agreement by both teams and consent from the Delegator. It’s usually driven by the person who wants to switch teams, often guided or supported by the Delegator of both Teams.