Self-organization in Virtual Space

The process of collective decision-making requires a high degree of self-organization that does not happen on its own. The facilitator should prepare an action plan for decision-making. Online format entails additional difficulties and challenges associated with virtual communication. Let’s look at the common problems with self-organization and possible solutions.

  • Readiness to practice self-organization
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of a clear process to reach consensus

Readiness to practice self-organization

Some individuals never experienced to work in self-organized environment. They can quickly pickup needed skills when placed in well established team. However, what can be done in organizations where employees are used to be led by manager for the entire career? Such organizations need professional agile coaching. Otherwise where else do they get their mental toughness for self-organization? Professional agile coach should train and support growth of a self-management mentality. The best way to start self-organization journey is to prove that it actually works better than being led by manager. NASA came up with a great exercise as a starting point in the world of self-organization.


This exercise perfectly simulates the process of both individual and collective decision making. In the end, as participant solving survival on the moon challenge, it shows that decisions based on group consensus almost always closer to the NASA recommendations.

Online facilitation:

Download the file that participants will fill out during the exercise (see below the “survival-on-the-moon.docx”). In an online format, I usually use Slack to distribute files. Each participant must have their own copy of this file

Facilitate this game following PDF instructions

STEP 1. Explain to all participants the purpose of the exercise

STEP 2. Each participant decides on the most important things to survive on the moon

STEP 3. Reach a consensus in the team about the most important things to survive on the moon. It’s best to do this exercise in zoom, because then it’s easy to divide the participants into rooms of 3-4 people.

STEP 4. Calculate the error between NASA, individual and team decision.

At the last meetup this exercise received a very high rating from participants.

Lack of motivation

You have to be very respectful about team decisions. What team decides should not be rejected by the management. Therefore, be very attentive and ethical in this regard:

  • Don’t start self-organizing in the areas you’re not willing to delegate. Think twice if you, as a manager, are ready to support a decision should you disagree with?
  • Self-organization should not turn into anarchy, so clearly set boundaries beyond which the team cannot cross
  • Delegating more areas than a team can digest can be overwhelming for self-organization. Move in small steps.

Lack of a clear process

Self-organization requires a facilitator who will design a clear decision-making process. Facilitator is not a magician who knows everything what is needed for effective self-organization. At the end of team discussion, it is recommended to gather feedback from participants. The process itself can also be improved following the PDCA cycle


Constructing smaller development teams is a fairly common case for self-organization. Scrum recommends that the team size should be between 3 and 9 development team members. But in some large scale context the number of available specialists can be much bigger than 9 people and require constructing several smaller scrum teams. For Scrum Master it is recommended to act as facilitator who can use multiple practices for self-organization, such as Skills Star Map.

PLAN. Example of a facilitation plan for virtual self-organization

Before running the session a collaborative board should be ready. For this purpose I usually use Mural.

DO. Facilitate collaborative self-organized session according to the plan. Final picture of two mission teams

CHECK. Mural supports anonymous voting, which can be used as a feedback collection tool

ACT. After checking overall rating of the decision quality. You can ask people to give more details, espessially those who rated decision as “3” or “4”. And then discuss what else can be done to improve decision quality.


Self-organization in virtual space can work as good as in co-located environment. Key ingredients for success: readiness of the team for self-organization, respect team decisions, even if management disagree, clear process and boundaries, facilitation and facilitator’s desire to improve, appropriate tools for online collaboration, such as Zoom and Mural. And always remember that a failure is a way to learn and improve. It’s important close meeting on the positive note, even if something didn’t go well

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