I’m sitting in a hotel room at the close of a conference where, for the last three days, the phrases “my team” and “your team” have come up repeatedly from speakers who are talking to roomsful of nominal team leaders. It grated on my ears every time I heard it. I have for some time been sensitive to the notion of team ownership. Often, I coach Scrum Masters that “the Team owns itself.”

It’s an interesting notion we have—this ownership of the teams we serve. Whether we are functional managers, project managers, Scrum Masters, coaches, or executives, to refer to the people we serve as “mine” harks back, in my mind, to master/slave relationships. It seems as archaic as it is ubiquitous.

I suppose, in many cases, it’s a sort of shorthand. We also say “my company” when we are referring to the place where we work. Yet, few of us actually own the company we work at. I’ve noticed people use the term protectively in some ways, as well—as if to give shelter to the people who report to them, for instance. Still, in most cases, the sense of ownership seems odd. It seems odd that fully functioning individuals on self-organizing teams would consent to ownership—or that it would be possible to own them.

I’m not sure why it is difficult to say “the team(s) that I (you) serve,” but it seems to be a tongue twister for most of us. It’s not as though I haven’t caught myself saying “my team” sometimes—especially when I’ve been in the Scrum Master role speaking up to protect the team and coming under heavy fire from some direction. I often correct myself on the spot, but I probably don’t always do so.

I also often coach teams to speak up when people use the possessive in reference to them. To move to a state of true self-organizing high accountability it seems to me that a healthy sense of self as individuals AND as a collective is important.

An exception to my discomfort with the use of “my team” comes up when I hear a team member use it. And, I’m not sure why that is. We say “my house” and the sense of ownership is not offensive. And, I suppose I think of a team as being a social structure in which an individual lives—much like a house. The team dynamic—the sense of teamness—provides support, shelter, and boundaries for the individual speaking of “my team.” In this case, “my team” is more like “my family”—that social structure to which I belong rather than which I own.

The conference is over, and my plane leaves at a ridiculous hour in the morning. And, perhaps the most important thing I learned in the last three days is how much more committed I am to speaking up for teams owning themselves—and taking on all that freedom of self-ownership means.


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