Rules That Make Your Self-Selection Event Work

In Self-Selection, rules not only make your event run smoothly, they’re the real reason we end up with balanced teams that cover all the work — even the projects that may be less desirable. It’s important to think carefully about which rules to employ at your self-selection event. Fewer is better, but here are some examples of good rules that tend to ensure you have balanced teams in the end.

self-selection rules

Do What’s Best For Your Company

In self-selection, there is only one mandatory rule: Do what’s best for <insert your company name here>. Introduce this rule the very first time you talk about self-selection and remind your teams of it early and often. Print it up and display it prominently in the room when you self-select. Most importantly, remind people of the rule when they reach a stalemate or have a tough decision to make.

Most people are quick to rally around this rule. Facilitators won’t be the only ones pointing to  it for long. We have found that people internalize it quickly, making it an elegant way to balance the teams. During a recent event we noticed many of our engineers pointing to the sign or quoting the rule during the event as they were talking to colleagues and deciding which team to join. We had some really, really talented people with specific skills clearly point out which teams they’d like to be on, then move to another one that, in the near term, had a greater need for their skills.

The “Do what’s best for your company” rule not only allowed us to cover the work that no one wanted to do, but focused us on a conversation after the event about how to lower the bus factor for some key people so they could move around next time. Surprisingly, those that chose their teams based on this rule were still happy with their teams afterwards! You can read more about why they were still happy and how this rule helps remove one of the most common self-selection hesitations here.

Team Size Rules

Another common rule for self-selection is around team size. For example, if you want teams to be a typical scrum team size, your rule would be: Teams must be between 5-9 people. For Opower, that number was 4-6 because we’d just had a lay-off and knew we needed six teams.

This rule can be an easy way to break up overly large teams and keep them to manageable sizes.

Co-location Rules

If you are lucky enough to be co-located or have enough people and skills in each location to be co-located, you may have a rule around co-location. Co-located teams are faster, closer, and higher performing than distributed teams. Being able to co-locate is a real advantage and many people really enjoy working on fully co-located teams. Personally, we’ve never been in a situation where we could fully co-locate, but we did use a gentler form of this rule at the Opower self-selection event. Our version was: Co-locate if possible. We ended up with two fully co-located teams in Odessa, Ukraine and four teams that were mixed between DC and San Francisco. We just didn’t have enough people or the right skills to fully co-locate on either coast.

Skill or Role Rules

Finally, you may have a set of rules that call out certain roles or skills that must be on the teams. Do you need a tech lead for each team? What about a quality engineer? Or UX? Make sure to have a rule laying out which skills must be present on each team. For us, the only stipulation was that: Each team must contain at least one quality assurance engineer.

If you’ve tried self-selection, what rules have you used successfully?

We got the ideas for most of these rules from a wonderful book by the people who invented self-selection for agile teams, David Mole & Sandy Mamoli. If you’d like to read more, pick up a copy of Creating Great Teams.

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