This month, the Nike Enterprise and Data Analytics department EMEA, organised a Self Organising Team Day remotely. I’m truly amazed about the way people adopt to this offsite online way of working. The outcome was astonishing with many teams being better balanced out than before and set up for future success. It was all about Self Organization in action, online and in its purest form.

Many organizations adopt an Agile way of working and in that process they want their teams to become self steering. And so, often the Leadership draw up an organizational plan and pushes the people in the squads. I was seriously impressed by the way Nike dared to change for better and empowered the people in taken decisions within their own hands.

Okay, so what was this day about?
In essence this is an event in which all associated people can, within certain boundaries, select their team of preference. It’s about giving people the opportunity to manage their own career and build strong balanced out teams for the future. Like said before, the department was looking for better balanced out teams after growing significantly in the past years. The end goal is to set up teams so that they are able to better answer the questions from their customers, set up teams to do their work as autonomous as possible.

“Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.”

In the last all hands session,, an internal meeting, with Nike’s CEO John Donahue John talked about his heroes in leadership. One of them was Phil Jackson, arguable the best coach in the history of the NBA. Here is a little story about him …

Phil Jackson won 11 championships as a coach and 2 as a player. After his playing career, he took coaching to another level because he mingled the typical basketball coaching thingies with things from life like meditation or reading books. And so, for example, whenever the team got to play multiple games on away courts, and the team was going to stay in hotels for multiple weeks, he gave his players a book to read that he carefully choose for them: the book was based on their interest and based on things they could learn from the book. And so, these books and the inspiration his players got from the books, was something they could discuss in 1-2-1. But obviously sharing books is not what makes him a great coach… There is more to it.

“The strength of the team lies within the individual. And the strength of the individual lies within the team”  

Phil Jackson

For me, one of the many reasons he is considered the best coach in the history of the NBA, is the way he made his team become one. During a basketball game, when the heat is on in a close game, you can anticipate the coach to take a timeout and give orders to the team to make sure they actually win the game. And often it happens in a close game, the coach ends up with no time outs left to draw up a play to make the decisive shot. Phil Jackson played the long game in this… During the regular season, he often didn’t take a time out when you, as a fan, was anticipating that, He left his players on the court and let them try to figure out themselves how to get out of a bad situation, even when pressure was high. The mentality was that there might be a situation in a playoffs game that the team is either limited in time outs or doesn’t have one at all and the coach won’t be able to save the team. And so Phil Jackson taught his team how to figure it out on their own while acitvely playing in the game. This was a story about empowering people and getting their engagement to grow as a team and trusting them in getting a result. In the process of doing that, he created a culture of oneness.

So the idea was to start that day in forming teams and making a first step in becoming one as a team at the end of the day. To orchestrate this day, there were some boundaries to make sure business continuation is guaranteed. But the day is also build on strong beliefs and you need to have a management breathing those beliefs as well to make it work:

Looking at the outcome of the day, after a couple of iterations, the teams are well balanced out now. People are happy to stay in their current team or excited to have joined a new team. And although it was all remote, you could actually feel the pumping energy. 

For sure, we still have a lot of work to do in coming together as one in the teams, but we already have a head start after empowering everybody in making their choices. 

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