Picture of Stephan van Rooden

Stephan van Rooden

The autonomy and alignment experiment


Recently, we hosted a small event on autonomy and ‘self organisation’. This was an informal and highly interactive session. We kick started with an experiment which I think is worth sharing.

Goal of this experiment is to see how people react when given a simple task with a combination of high or low autonomy and alignment. How does this make them feel? And how do they experience this? The outcome was great! In this post I would like to share how you can re-enact this experiment.

This autonomy experiment is inspired by a small fragment from the movie about the Spotify Engineering Culture part 1. We wanted, before showing this to the audience, to have them experience what it means to have low autonomy and low alignment but still have a result expected. This is how the experiment works:

Step 1 – The event starts before it starts

Before the event officially started, even before we welcomed everybody we divided the group into 4 smaller groups. S no welcome, no explanation that we are doing an exercise. Just. “Welcome, We need you to split up in groups of four.”

Step 2 – Handing out the assignment

Each group gets an assignment written on a post-it handed over by the facilitator of the experiment.

Group 1 – Low autonomy, Low alignment

Welcome, on behalf of Prowareness welcome to this Mastery in Scrum event. Tonight we will be talking about the self organisations in scrum teams. Enjoy your evening, we will start in 10 minutes.

Group 2 – Low Alignment, High Autonomy

Welcome to Mastery in Scrum on self organisation. Feel free as a group to get to know each other and the other groups in the next 10 minutes.

Group 3 – High Alignment, low autonomy

Welcome to Mastery in Scrum. Heres your assignment for you:

  • Person 1: Learn all the participants (so also other groups) their names.
  • Person 2: Learn all participants (so also other groups) their current role in an organisation.
  • Person 3: Learn all participants (so also other groups) the biggest challenge working with teams.
  • Person 4: Learn all participants (so also other groups) their experience with Scrum in years..

If you are with >4 people choose one of four tasks.

You have 10 minutes

Group 4 – High Alignment and High Autonomy

This group gets the following assignment.

Welcome to Mastery in Scrum. We would like to get to know what people’s expectations are for this workshop. You have 10 minutes.

Step 3 – Chaos begins

Right after the assignments had been handed out, everybody started to execute their assignment where some are perfectly executing their task assigned and others where looking puzzled by the fact people approached them with certain questions.

Step 4 – The Question

After 10 minutes we asked everybody to get to their seats and we asked them;

For each group we would like to hear what you found out what people’s expectations are for this workshop.

Some teams were able to elaborate a little on the topic, some had no idea this was the purpose of the assignment they received.

Step 5 – Debrief

After this we did a debrief on the assignment asking the following questions.

  • Discuss what the groups thinks what this was all about?
  • Discuss how each group experienced this exercise?
  • Showing the movie on Spotify engineering culture
  • How does this reflect to their situation, their work and what is the relationship with self organisation? (fishbowl – 1 chair per quadrant)

This was a great way to kickstart the event and a discussion on how to achieve autonomy and self organisation because every participant experienced the impact on this. So please feel free to replicate this experiment and let me know what you think of it and how it can be improved.

More to explore

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