Self-Managed Teams – The Myths and The Reality


LandRover and BodyShop in the UK have led the way in a change process that has drawn attention from other companies and industries. It’s not a new concept, but one that has gathered momentum recently.

It’s the idea of self-managed teams (SMT), sometimes known as self-directed work teams in the US.

You may have heard of them and wondered if they were for you. They sound good (allowing leaders to devote more time to their real work) but won’t it be too risky (people let off like loose canons) and take too much time?

First, let’s dismiss some myths about SMT.

1) They don’t need managers. Well, they need coaching, facilitation, support and a whole host of other interventions.

2) They don’t need leaders. Er, yes they do, but it’s often shared participatively across the group.

3) They leave leaders powerless. No, it’s a different type of leadership that’s required, relying on influence not authority.

4) They are cheap to run. The high set-up costs, training and trouble-shooting mean they may be more expensive in the short-term.

5) They are quick to establish and form. Actually, constant refinement and adaptation are needed to get them right.

So, what can you do to make sure that SMTs work efficiently, effectively and with the best results? Here’s a practical checklist:

a) Focus on empowering and motivating. This will assist in developing people’s personal responsibility for results.

b) Identify successful SMTs in your industry. Study how they work, especially when it comes to leadership style, and learn how ideas can be implemented with your teams.

c) Offer clear instruction and support. A new idea like SMTs will take time to bed in and will inevitably bring pains at first. The support offered will lessen the pain.

d) Clarify roles and objectives. Ensure everyone knows the reason why this is being introduced and encourage questions to clarify concerns.

e) Invest time in communicating and establishing best practice. Everyone needs to know what’s expected and how decisions are going to be made.

f) Turn problems and difficulties into learning experiences. Resist the temptation to grab back control, especially during the incubation phase when everyone is finding their feet.

When developing a high-performing SMT, it is valuable to have a clear understanding of :

– The benefits of team building

– Team roles and dynamics

– The stages of team development

– The skills of a quality team leader

– How to avoid potential problems and pitfalls

Charles Handy said “A good team is a great place to be, exciting, stimulating, supportive and successful. A bad team is a horrible place to be, a sort of human prison”. SMTs help managers to build respect and success around the qualities that each team member possesses, so be aware of how the concept of SMTs could work within your business and allow your top team members to rise to the top. This way, the culture of the team develops and you get high performance from each team member.

Many thanks

Mark Williams

Head of Training

MTD Training   | Image courtesy by Digital Art of FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

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Updated on: 20 July, 2012

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