Four Things That Every Self-Managed Team Needs To Be Successful

Imagine you work in an organization that’s in the twilight zone between traditional management and self-management. The company has decided to try out this new “wonder medicine” called self-management and you’re now suddenly responsible for your own goals and results. Feeling confused or maybe even anxious? You’re not alone.

Many organizations that have started thinking of self-management as a new organizational mode, are doing so without really equipping their teams to handle the change. They either sack the complete management or say the managers need to transform into coaches.

Self-Management Can’t Be Fast-Tracked

hourglassSuch approaches to self-management don’t really work because the managers still feel responsible and accountable for their team’s efforts and results. It’s very hard for them to let restrict themselves just to coaching and to place all that responsibility in the hands of their team members. For people on such teams, it feels like their organization’s saying, “You’re a self-managed team starting now. Good luck and bye!”

But, self-management doesn’t happen overnight - in fact, there are some prerequisites that need to be met before a team can become truly self-managed. Sacking the middle-management isn’t sustainable because on one hand, you’re signalling that you believe management is unnecessary, while on the other hand certain managerial tasks continue to persist. Taking the fast-track approach to self-management, without any facilitation, isn’t the way to go.

So, without further ado, here are four aspects all organizations need to look at before switching into the self-management mode.

1. Get Clear About Responsibilities

One of the basic tenets of self-management is that team members take responsibility for their own goals and results. But to do that, they need to know what exactly is their team’s contribution with respect to the rest of the organization. Very often there isn’t enough clarity about the overall purpose of a team.

Of course, all organizations have a number of goals but the very first step towards helping teams become self-managed is clarifying what exactly are their responsibilities. It really helps if you can give teams a condensed list of your top goals - two or three goals would be ideal but six should be the maximum. They could be profit or customer satisfaction or return on investment (ROI) or anything else. Keeping the list small makes it easier for teams to understand what they need to do, especially when you’ve just started with self-management.

Even if your team is mature in self-management, it’s not a great idea to have too many difficult goals because they tend to confuse people and scatter their attention. Finally, organizations need to ask their self-managed teams what they feel needs to change so that they can take up greater ownership of their jobs.

2. Migrate Towards Multi-Functional Teams

teamIf an organization decides to take the self-management route, it’s okay to start with functional teams. But mature self-managed organizations tend to migrate towards multi-functional teams that are organized around value streams simply because it’s much easier for them to take responsibility.

For example, if just the marketing department gets declared a self-managed team, it’s actually quite difficult for them to take responsibility. Let’s assume they want to market your company as having the best quality cars. But your production team might be saying something entirely different. They might feel that it’s actually tough for your company to have the best quality cars because production isn’t cost-efficient or your budget can’t afford all those luxury car fittings.

This is an important conversation that needs to happen between the production, marketing and sales departments. Multi-functional teams make it easier to have such conversations because they take responsibility for different aspects of your overall output: Aspects that have been organized around your value streams like the products you make or the customers you serve. That mindset is completely different from the conventional way of organizing around functions.

3. Give Teams Timely Information

Self-managed teams thrive on information that shows them how they’re doing. Quantitative and qualitative numbers that show how they’re doing on sales, production, quality and any other important milestone need to be shared regularly. They help such teams assess themselves and adjust their efforts to deliver better results.

It also really helps to ask self-managed teams what information they need in order to steer their efforts better and deliver results. For instance, an organization might feel the only thing that’s important is sales or ROI. But their self-managed teams might say that focussing on just sales or ROI might compromise quality and they may ask for information that will help refine the quality of products/ services in order to increase repeat customers.

The frequency with which the teams want such information to be updated should also be suggested by the teams themselves. It can be a week or a month, but no longer than a month.

4. Power Them With Autonomy

In many organizations, teams need to follow lots of rules and procedures just to communicate with each other and often, people aren’t clear why those rules exist. If your teams need to take responsibility for their work and results, then rules and regulations need to be kept to a minimum. In that way, the people in self-managed teams feel like they’re being treated as thinking adults who make sound decisions in their personal lives.

For instance, it will really save everyone time if there aren’t elaborate rules on ordering more toner for the printer or buying new tools. Autonomy should also extend to when, where and how self-managed teams work and the only thing that matters should be the results they deliver.

Of course, they can have team discussions and coach themselves on how they should go towards their goals. But it won’t work if there’s external interference from upper management that threatens their autonomy.

It’s also a great idea to ask self-managed teams what rules and regulations are preventing them from taking responsibility. It can be informal rules about who sits where. For instance, your sales and marketing teams might need to work together but may be situated on different levels. Then they can ask to be moved to the same level.

Or, it could be the more formal rules on how teams communicate each other’s needs and concerns. For instance, if the sales team wants to have information about the production, then it’s tedious for them to fill out a form that has 20 requirements and 10 questions before they can access the information they need. So the teams might want to take away such roundabout methods of communicating and opt for working together as a team. In short, internal procedures aren’t the best friend of sound teamwork .

An Exercise In Simplicity

These are all really important things that an organization needs to have in place before they can expect their teams to set their own goals and hold themselves accountable. This is also a great exercise in making your organization as simple as it can be because being simple isn’t easy. Most businesses are organized in complicated ways that make it tough for people to contribute optimally. On the other hand, simple organizations make it easier for people to meaningfully contribute because they know what to focus their attention upon.

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