Presentation: Self-Selection for Resilience and Better Culture

Track: Human Systems: Hacking the Org

Location: Majestic Complex, 6th fl.

Duration: 10:35am - 11:25am

Day of week:

Slides: Download Slides

This presentation is now available to view on

Watch video with transcript

What You’ll Learn

  1. Hear about self-selection, a process that empowers people to choose their own teams
  2. See how self-selection has been applied
  3. Learn the benefits that self-selection can bring


The talent shortage is real. According to CareerBuilder research, 60% of US organizations today can’t fill their open positions in 12 weeks or more. Combined with a high turnover rate, this leads to a massive loss of profit opportunities. How can we create a culture that attracts people and keeps them engaged, motivated, and well-jelled with their teams?  And after they join, how do we build resilience into our teams and the organization?  Empowering people to choose their own teams - a “self selection” - is a great vehicle to build in happiness, resilience and a better culture.       

In this session I will share stories from running successful self-selection events in New York, Dublin and Chicago, and how I prepare technology teams and management for their first self-selection events. Building on the work of Sandi Mamoli and David Mole, I created my own simulation and a “Spooky Questions” game. The game enables open conversations, helps identify unspoken worries and brings in more fun and empathy into a self-selection process.

In this session, you will learn: 

  • a fundamentally different approach to creating high performing teams 
  • five steps to make your first experiment successful
  • how self-selection enables better career path, psychological safety and organizational resiliency. 

What is the focus of your work today?


I'm an Agile/DevOps coach and trainer and these days I'm interested in finding better ways to engage people in their work, their learning and co-creation. With my DevOps Culture, Self-selection and “Fear in the Workplace” games, I help organizations start their journey to a culture of experimentation, learning and high-performance.


What’s the motivation for this talk?


I've tried facilitating self-selection at a couple of places and I've seen the results, not only for the participating teams but also for the organization at large. I've seen how individuals were getting more opportunities with self-selection and I wanted to share that experience with others.

I’ve also observed that a change, even a positive one, can trigger negative emotions in people. To reduce some of the anxieties around the event, I created a simulation game that can make a difference in preparing participants to their first self-selection event. In this session I will share the steps one can take to prepare and to run a successful self-selection event.


Can you give us a high-level overview of what self selection is?


Self-selection is a facilitated process that allows people to choose what project they want to work on and which team they want to be a part of. Through this process, people are exercising autonomy!

As they form their new teams, they look for ways to master their skills, while keeping in mind the needs of the company. They also look for opportunities to become a part of a group with a  better team dynamic.

This process is very different from the way how most of the teams are being formed today. Traditionally it's up to the manager to pull the team together, whereas a self-selection gives power to people to select their team members.


How would you describe the persona and level of the target audience?


It will be useful for all - from individual contributors to those in leadership roles.  From the individual contributors perspective, it's for educational experience, to get exposure to some of the alternative ways of building new teams. It's more actionable for managers and above; they have a power to influence an introduction of these kinds of processes as well as drive a mindset shift in their organizations.


What do you want this persona to walk away from your talk with?


I want them to be inspired by what's possible. Today they might be living with a choice that someone else had made for them. Whether it's a good choice or a bad choice, the people on the teams may have had very little say in it.  With self-selection, management can empower people to experiment with lots of different teams, to try out new skills. This would give people an opportunity to expand their skill set and learn more about the business, more about the latest technology etc.

This in itself can be a powerful motivator for improving employee retention and engagement. And keeping the best people employed with this company.

I want this persona to come back to their organization with this new knowledge and share it with others. Even if they can't put it in place right now, there is a big value in sharing that information with others in the company. And to me, it's like this drop that falls on a stone and makes a tiny dent. It's one of the drops after the others that eventually makes a difference.


What do you feel is the most important trend in software right now?


I'm passionate about DevOps Culture and believe that there is a big power in recognizing that psychological safety goes hand-in-hand with a third way of DevOps. I'm interested in seeing that develop further.

Speaker: Dana Pylayeva

Agile/DevOps Trainer & Founder of Agile Play Consulting, LLC

Dana is an independent Agile Coach and trainer with over 20 years of diverse experience in IT.  She’s been on both sides of the “wall of confusion”:  first as a software engineer and then as a DBA Manager in low-latency, high-throughput environments. She’s been fortunate to work with co-located and distributed teams in US, Canada, Ireland, Japan, UK, India and Russia and can share with you their distinct challenges, successes and effective practices. 

Dana is passionate about connecting people in a powerful way for co-creation and learning. She is an educational games designer and author of  “Introduction to DevOps with Lego, Chocolate and Scrum Game”,  “Self-Selection Game” and ”“Fear in the Workplace”.

In the last 5 years, she trained over 2000 people, coached 30 + teams and delivered workshops at 36 conferences in 15 countries.

She is actively involved in Agile community in various roles as a volunteer, reviewer, track chair, program chair and conference chair. Dana is the founder of Big Apple Scrum Day conference and a co-organizer of NYC Scrum User Group and NYC Liberating Structures meetups.

Find Dana Pylayeva at

Similar Talks

Are We Really Cloud-Native?


Director of Technology @Luminis_eu

Bert Ertman

The Trouble With Learning in Complex Systems


Senior Cloud Advocate @Microsoft

Jason Hand

What Breaks Our Systems: A Taxonomy of Black Swans


Site Reliability Engineer @Slack, Contributor to Seeking SRE, & SRECon Steering Committee

Laura Nolan

Scaling Infrastructure Engineering at Slack


Senior Director of Infrastructure Engineering @Slack

Julia Grace