It seems that the idea of self-directed work teams is coming back into vogue. I ran across this article recently about the companies that have embraced the practice. It’s called “Why self-managed teams are the future of business” and it’s worth a read.
Many years ago, one of the companies I worked for decided to move toward self-managed teams. A group of managers, including myself, spent months working on how self-managed teams could be incorporated into our culture. We ended up doing it, but looking back, I’m not sure it was really successful. I think what we really did was just create a new organizational structure and called it self-managed work teams.
But the one thing I did learn from the experience is this. You cannot have successful self-managed teams without self-managed people. Organizations cannot just write a memo that says “Poof! Ya’ll are self-managing now.” and leave people to figure the rest out.
In the self-managed teams project I worked on, we spent an incredible amount of time focused on the structure of the teams. That’s not where the emphasis needs to be. On some level, structure is the easy part. The challenge is helping team members figure out how they will solve problems, make decisions, and collaborate in a self-directed work environment.
Organizations looking toward self-management as a way to free up internal bureaucracy, flatten hierarchy, improve idea sharing, and reduce waste have to consider a few things in their plans.
Disengaged employees and self-management might not mix. If you consider the definitions of employee engagement and self-management, it seems logical that disengaged employees might not embrace self-management. Organizations will have to deal with this first and foremost.
Employees need training on the principles of self-management. Just like teams need training on team development skills, employees need some self-management training. This includes conflict management, problem solving, decision making, and communications skills.
Organizations have to share their plans for the future. Self-management works when employees know the goals of the organization and how they fit into those goals. This allows them to make good decisions that are in the best interest of the organization. Strategic planning and goal setting, along with transparent communications, are key.
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Self-managed work teams can bring a tremendous value to organizations when they are implemented correctly. A big part of that means setting employees who will work in a self-managing environment up for success.
Image courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby