Leading a Self-Managed Team

Self-managed teams have been around as a concept for over 30 years now but a lot of confusion still exists about what they are and how they are best led.  When a large European organisation decided to create a self-managed team culture, they published a very useful list of steps for all of its leaders/managers, which is shown below:

  • Step 1: Teams are formed, with a team leader and a specific structure which is compatible with the overall organisational structure
  • Step 2: Team members then allocate clear team roles and create their own development goals
  • Step 3: Teams develop their own rules and are given full responsibility for their own development goals
  • Step 4: Teams start to plan their work and have full responsibility for the outworking of that work
  • Step 5: Teams constantly review their own performance and seek to improve processes
  • Step 6: Teams are able to handle internal conflicts and appraise their team leader/manager
  • Step 7: Teams set their own targets and plan and control costs
  • Step 8: Teams are fully skilled and recruit and induct new members

At the most simple level, this 8-step list shows that a tight structure imposed from above in a traditional team culture, is progressively replaced with an organisational system that the team controls and imposes upon itself to get work done.

Self-managing teams are not leaderless. In fact, the role of the leader in self-managing teams becomes much more important because the team has much more responsibility. Because the team has to organise, plan, co-ordinate, control and take command of its work, it needs a leader who is able to create and support a team able to do all this. This more steering-oriented team leader therefore needs to ensure that his or her team understands its role, has the right mix of people and skills to undertake the role, and knows what is expected of it. The leader also needs to assist the team in learning how to perform the various tasks they now have responsibility for, and to make sure that they achieve the goals (or reach the standards or targets) to which they have agreed.

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