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Unlocking Self-Managed Team Benefits in Modern Organizations

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What is a self-managed team?

When a person is self-governing, he or she is not under the direction of an authority figure; she has full autonomy and control over her actions, processes and results.

In the workplace, a self-managed team is a group of employees who work together to complete a project or achieve a specific result, with little or no direct supervision from a manager.

Many employees in your organization likely practice some level of self-management. Experienced employees, for example, trust themselves to do their jobs well and on time without being micromanaged. But they also often contact a team leader or superior for advice.

How does a self-managed team work?

Self-managed teams have become increasingly popular over the years because they work well in today's collaborative, creative and hybrid work environments. Some companies use self-managed teams because they need to cut staff and do without managers or supervisors.

Because these teams are not led by a manager, the employees in these teams take full responsibility for their work and processes. The team is responsible for tasks normally handled by managers, such as: Performance reviews, operational processes and contributions to the overall company picture.

Self-managed teams are typically smaller, and each role is clearly defined. They work together to complete their shared tasks and overcome obstacles to achieve their ideal outcome.

These teams are more likely to hold ad hoc meetings rather than holding daily stand-up calls or scheduling weekly project meetings. Because these meetings require a certain level of leadership, teams appoint a moderator to lead the discussion. However, the moderator can change at each meeting.

Self-managed teams also typically have unlimited paid time off. This fits with their self-management approach, as employees trust that they will only take vacation when their workload and team can handle it, and that they will not abuse this policy.

9 reasons your company should build self-managed teams

Transitioning from the traditional leadership hierarchy to self-managed teams is not an easy task. It requires buy-in from employees and managers, resources and time. However, when developed correctly, these teams can inspire innovation, enrich company-wide relationships, and put your company on a fast track to achieving your goals.

If you strive for any of the following goals, self-managed teams can help you achieve this goal:

1. Employees develop new skills

Working in a self-managed team allows employees to explore underdeveloped skills. For example, as they work together to plan and execute a variety of tasks, they have the opportunity to improve their problem-solving, communication and organizational skills.

2. Employees can try out new roles

In some self-managed teams, employees have the opportunity to try out different roles to learn from their colleagues and develop entirely new skills.

Employees want to constantly learn and develop; if their position or development stagnates, they may look for other employment opportunities. Instead, joining a self-managed team provides an environment of experiential learning and skills sharing where they can safely explore a new role within the company and gain insights from their colleagues.

3. Employees gain leadership skills

Employees in self-managed teams have the unique opportunity to develop and expand their leadership skills. While many employees don't have this opportunity in their usual role, working in these smaller self-managed teams gives everyone a level playing field and the opportunity to lead, advise or contribute in new ways.

4. Employees become experts

Not every employee wants to move up the hierarchy and become a manager or leader. Many want to become experts in their role or master a particular skill, and self-managed teams are the perfect environment to help them achieve this.

Because teams are more intimate, each employee has more say than in a typical team structure. They have full responsibility for their own role and gain a deeper understanding of their colleagues' work, the process and the end product.

5. Decision making is improved

Self-managed teams benefit from being able to draw from different perspectives and experiences, which increases creativity and leads to a more well-rounded decision-making process. Team members are also encouraged to make decisions without group consensus, provided they have sought expert advice and consulted with those directly affected.

6. Employees become more motivated

Just feeling like you're part of a team can increase motivation, and that motivation increases when you're working toward a common goal.

In self-managed teams, each team member is assigned specific tasks. Because they are in charge, they are more motivated to do their best and ensure the team as a whole is successful.

In contrast, an individual employee on a traditional team may not feel as motivated and accountable because they are not working as closely with or as connected to their team members.

7. Employees become more engaged

Typically, employees are selected for a self-managed team because they have self-management qualities, have the right skills, and the project or outcome matches their interests or expertise.

When an employee is selected for a team based on these qualities, they feel more confident in their work and encouraged to do their best. When an employee is assigned to a project that matches their interests or expertise, their engagement level automatically increases because it is already within their scope of duties.

8. It's more efficient

In a typical team environment, the organization's goal is passed to a manager, who passes it on to his team and dictates how the team should work to achieve the goal.

In these scenarios, the team's success can be hindered by the manager not giving his employees enough information or autonomy. The “why” behind the work can lose meaning if not communicated properly, dampening team motivation.

In a self-managed team, on the other hand, employees know how to best use their time, skills and resources to work together and achieve the goal without the middleman. The goal - and the "why" behind their work - is also much clearer because they get the information directly from management.

These teams also require less supervision, allowing the potential manager or supervisor to focus their attention and time on another project or department.

9. More cost effective

Because self-managed teams are more efficient and productive, they save your organization time and money. RCAR Electronics in the US reported annual savings of $10 million after introducing self-managed teams.

Companies also save the costs of hiring, training and retaining a supervisor or manager and can instead use these resources for other areas of the company.

How do you prepare leaders for self-managed teams?

Even if self-managed teams don't have a leader to lead them from within, leadership still plays a critical role in their success:

  • The organization must have clearly defined goals and values that a self-managing team can align and align with.
  • Managers must show trust in their team members. Avoiding the typical top-down leadership style requires giving up control and placing full trust in your employees.
  • Leaders must be transparent with their teams and share important information to deepen their trust and align them with the company's goals.

The role of the external manager

In some organizations, self-managed teams have an external leader who acts as a liaison between them and the leadership team, assists the team in obtaining resources, and presents its findings to senior management.

External leaders are responsible for the success and performance of one or more self-managed teams. It's a complicated role: you have to lead your team towards goals without overstepping their boundaries or micromanaging them.

One of the main goals of an external leader is to build strong relationships with the leadership team and the self-managed team. Once they have established trusting relationships with both parties, they help the self-managed team develop a direct relationship with leadership. This allows the external leader to withdraw and reduce their commitment.

How to develop a self-managing team

Transitioning from traditional leadership hierarchy to self-managed teams can be challenging for some organizations. Even if there are fewer managers in these teams, a structure should still be followed in their development:

1. Identify employees with self-management traits

Successful self-managed teams require serious commitment and interest from those who participate. Employees who thrive in self-management tend to have the following characteristics;

  • Drive - You take the initiative and move forward confidently without being directed by a superior. As a member of a self-managed team, they must be able to make their own progress and push themselves (and their team) forward with self-motivation.
  • Confidence - They must have confidence in their abilities, in the organization and in their team members. In a self-managed team, trust leads to a free flow of ideas as team members feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and concerns without judgment.
  • Efficient decision-making - You make thoughtful, well-thought-out decisions and have strong decision-making skills. They consider alternative viewpoints to make an informed decision.
  • Self-awareness - They know their abilities and limitations and reach out to their teammates when needed. They are constantly looking for opportunities to learn new things and develop their skills.
  • Strong Communication - You will help cultivate an environment that encourages open communication. They express their opinions, even if they are contrary, as long as it serves the greater good of the team. They listen to concerns and respect the experiences of their team members.

2. Clarify and share the organization's goal

Before you start a self-managed team, you should discuss the ideal outcome with the management. Communicate your organization's business goals to your team and determine how the team's performance will be measured and tracked.

3. Provide training and team building

Some employees may need technical training related to the project or training about working in a self-managed team (e.g. a conflict resolution course). If team members are unfamiliar with each other, coordinate team-building exercises and events to help them build trust and improve their communication.

4. Hand over the task to the team

The team then collectively sets its specific goals, defines its roles and responsibilities, and outlines its process. An external leader will provide advice as needed during this time.

5. Maintain balance

Every team member should be treated equally and compensated fairly; In self-managed teams, female employees are more likely to experience pay inequality. Ensure that each team member contributes as intended, feels empowered, and has equal opportunities.

6. Check their performance

Self-managed teams don't require constant feedback from a manager or manager, but you still need to schedule check-ins and performance reviews to measure employees' progress. Use these reviews to discuss methods for improving processes or functions, ensuring they are within scope, schedule and budget, and celebrating their successes.

Now it's your turn: start developing self-managed teams today

Can every team within your organization succeed as a self-managed team? Maybe not, it depends on your goals, your industry and your employees. But with the right structure and support, self-management can produce innovative processes, enriching workplace experiences, and a deeper connection to work.

In embracing the transformative power of self-managed teams, IceHrm envisions a future where autonomy, innovation, and shared responsibility redefine workplace dynamics. By fostering a culture of trust and skill development, IceHrm propels organizations toward success in the evolving landscape of modern work.

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