Self-Directed Work Teams

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There are many times projects can be completed by two or more individuals. In those instances, you need to put a team of employees on the task. The best teams are often self-directed, as this can give employees a greater sense of accomplishment. Before moving forward with a self-directed team, you need to understand what they are, their benefits and drawbacks, and how to build one. 

What is a self-directed team?

A self-directed team is a group of professionals working toward a common goal. It takes collaboration to a new level, as it ensures that there are different skill sets within the team. Each person has a specific area of expertise to add to the team.

Self-directed teams know the purpose or goal and don’t have the standard managerial supervision over them, as that is considered a form of micromanagement. Once the team has met their goal or completed the project, they present it to management.

Disadvantages of self-directed teams

Although it can be highly beneficial to have a self-directed team, there can be disadvantages too. Creativity can often be stifled if the group pushes individual ideas to the side to conform to the team norms. It can also lead to popularity contests if the majority of the team members support one idea over another for the wrong reasons.

Additionally, self-directed work teams can lead to more meetings and longer decision-making processes – especially in the beginning. There may be lulls in productivity before the project kicks off as everyone transitions to the new model.

By working closely with the team, identifying expectations, and matching varying skill sets, you can overcome many of the challenges associated with self-direction.

How to make self-directed teams work for your company

Self-directed – or self-managed – work teams are more common than ever before. As recognition of the value of employee empowerment grows, many companies see the potential advantages of self-managed work teams. You may be unsure exactly how to create one and whether it could really work for your business. Here are some advantages of adopting the self-directed work team model:

  • Accountability: Boosts employee responsibility and accountability
  • Satisfaction: Greater sense of satisfaction among workers
  • Autonomy: Freedom for team innovation
  • Expertise: Effective use of individual team members’ skills
  • Proprietorship: Ownership of project results
  • Ethics: Higher employee morale

Understanding the self-directed work team concept

Before you implement this structure for your company, learn why self-managed work groups work. Understand the principles behind the concept and the employee motivations that cause self-directed business teams to thrive. You’ll then be better prepared to implement this model in your own company. While it doesn’t work in every environment, the concept can lead to more agility. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of everyone on the team can help you to support them in the most effective ways possible.

How to build an effective self-directed team

Although the team will be self-managed, you will need to create the group. Identify the characteristics and skills you want within the team. Hand-select each member of the team based on what they can contribute. Consider these four characteristics of an effective team:

Commonality Everyone on the team must know the common goal. Once this is established, all the team members will know how to move forward.
Joint responsibility Each person on the team must be responsible for their part.
Interdependence Each person is responsible for a certain aspect of the job, though all must trust that the rest of the team will deliver tasks and collaborate toward the common goal.
Empowerment Everyone must be empowered to do what they need in order to accomplish the goal.

Here are some further steps you can take to build your self-directed team effectively.

1. Train management.

Your managers are the people who will be responsible for empowering their teams to achieve their goals under their own leadership. Prepare them to help their teams excel by giving them the training they need in properly implementing the self-directed work team model.

2. Prepare your staff.

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Training your managers isn’t enough: You’ll also need to see that the team members themselves are thoroughly trained, developed and prepped for the upcoming responsibilities. Effective training will equip them to be productive members of the team.

3. Give your teams the tools they need.

If you’re not careful, a self-managed team can make others feel isolated. Whether they’re working as a team within the same office or virtually, you need to offer tools that can be used to help with communication between teams. This includes conferencing apps and virtual whiteboards. Ask the team members what tools they will find useful.

Tip: Use top video conferencing systems to help teams that aren’t all located in the same building communicate with each other face to face.

4. Hire a consulting service.

A self-directed business team consultant can help you properly implement your program and ensure its success. If you’re at all unsure that you and your managers can pull it off on your own, consider using a consultant – at least in the beginning stages – to get you started. A consultant will help you explore ways to overcome common problems so that you can move forward, meet deadlines, and empower your employees in a way that allows them to flourish creatively.

Examples of self-managed teams

Self-directed teams don’t all function the same way. There are different types of self-directed teams, and it’s up to you to figure out which ones work for your company and how many to create. Here are some examples of different types of self-directed teams:

Team with no supervision

Entirely self-directed teams can function without the supervision of a higher-up. The team comprises members with different areas of expertise, all working toward one goal. Having people on the team who are good at different things allows a project to be completed efficiently.

There can be feedback on the progress of a project with this type of self-management team, but the feedback isn’t meant to be a management tactic.

FYIFYI: Fully self-directed teams function similarly to group projects in school. Each person takes a part of a project with the whole in mind.

Team with some supervision 

Some self-directed teams still need guidance, so some presence from a manager or team leader can be helpful. There could be gaps in experience or expertise within the team, so oversight from someone who has a broader idea of the project at hand enhances the completion of the project. It also helps to have someone on the team who serves as the main decision-maker.

Project-based team 

Sometimes your company needs to branch out into teams to accomplish a certain project or solve a particular problem. Once the goal is achieved, the team disbands and goes back to regular operations.

There are deadlines to be met with this type of self-directed team, so there’s some added pressure that the other types might not have. This can play a part in the decision of who ends up on a project-based team.

Hybrid team

Within a self-directed team, there can be members who continue to work together on a project, and a few members who branch off and work independently. Some team members may have more experience than others, which may lead to training opportunities. Consequently, team members completing some tasks solo may help achieve the project’s goal quickly.



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