In the history of the American workforce, the corporate structure of companies has grown increasingly complex. In recent decades, however, there has been a trend toward simplification. We’re peppered with stories in the media touting team structures including holocracy, matrix-based organizations, and team collaboration. However, these stories can turn seemingly simple terms and structures into complicated ones.

The Power of Self-Managed and Directed Teams

Experiments in “flat structures” and giving employees more autonomy have become common. With improvements in technology and communication, new ways of conducting business are becoming simpler to implement. Self-managed teams of workers are one of the newest trends.

After discarding all the media buzzwords aside, a simpler definition of this style of team emerges. Within a company, self-managed teams often work alongside traditionally managed departments. In this system, positive results are common, such as savings in payroll expenses due to reduced management and improvements in productivity and employee morale. In short, this parallel team system allows you to evaluate team structures and strategies alongside one another to determine the best performing, least complex, and most accepted type of team.

The goal is creating a team that is managed through consensus by its members, even in complex tasks. Some team tasks might include:

  • Prioritizing and quickly addressing high-priority challenges and roadblocks
  • Setting schedules and managing workflow
  • Evaluating team performance and holding members accountable

Self-managed teams can lessen the need for outside management or drawn-out chain-of-command decisions. In self-managed teams, decisions are often made more rapidly, leading to swifter process changes and execution, which is essential for every company and team.

4 Steps for Building a Self-Directed and Managed Team

In general, self-managed teams promote happy and engaged leaders who are able to focus their attention on the most impactful pieces of the larger business instead of dealing with employee conflict or issues within their team. However, the challenge lies with how to implement self-management while maintaining the larger corporation’s goals and standards.

It’s one thing to make the case for a self-managed and directed team. Engaging, training, and hiring a successfully self-directed and managed team is another battle entirely.

When building a new self-managed team, consider using your current employees and established teams instead of hiring all new staff. Evaluate the skills and strengths you already have employed for your company. You may be surprised at how your staff might rise to the challenge posed by functioning in a self-directed team.

  1. Talk to your staff.
    First and foremost, it is most important to understand the strengths, weaknesses, and career goals of individual team members. Let them tell you where their interests and strengths lie. Talk to them individually and privately to learn about their personality and interests and to build trust.
  2. Put them to the test.
    Standardized skills testing can aid the team and provide valuable information to make sure their mission stays on target. This strategy also helps you understand what skills they bring to the team and where they might fit in relation to their teammates.
  3. Set expectations.
    Once you have met with team members and built a plan with their skills, strengths, and own goals in mind, set clear expectations for what self-direction and self-management looks like.
  4. Meet and assess frequently.
    Meet with team members on a regular basis (even daily) for short meetings to stay on top of deadlines, make announcements, and answer questions. Remember to schedule individual meetings at least twice a month with the members of your team.

Hiring New Team Members

Once you have established the skills, abilities, and goals of your current staff, add new talent to fill the gaps you uncovered during the staff-evaluation process. Team members should be involved in this hiring process—otherwise, it isn’t really a self-managed team. I recommend using a combination of hiring tools and techniques to target “specific traits” that will compliment your existing teams. The use of skills testing allows you and your team to assess and evaluate new team members. Follow-up your skills testing with an in-person interview conducted by you, as the hiring manager. Your final round of candidates should meet with the team in a panel or group interview. This group dynamic is essential in self-directed teams. The panel interview offers your team members the chance to provide candidate feedback for their potential teammate.

What roadblocks have you encountered in building and managing self-directed teams? Leave a comment below to continue the conversation.

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, is an author, speaker, Human Resources professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the president and CEO of Xceptional HR, and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience. The author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, Jessica was named by HR Examiner as the second most influential recruiter on the Internet and the seventh most powerful woman on Twitter. She is a columnist for both SmartBrief and The Huffington Post, in addition to Blogging4Jobs and Human Resources One on One. Jessica has been interviewed for professional articles in CIO Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, SHRM’s HR Magazine, and on CBS. Jessica earned a Senior Professional in Human Resources designation in 2008, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Business from Kansas State University. Originally from a small town in Kansas, Jessica currently lives near Oklahoma City with her husband, Greg and daughter, Ryleigh.

3 Comments

  • Avatar Brooke D. says:

    Well-coached employees with demonstrable skills make great candidates for self-managed teams. Self-management means you have to do it on your own, you train your own people, you evaluate their performance, and you decide what changes will be needed. 

  • Avatar Sydney C. says:

    It is a great idea to have almost complete control over who to hire for your self-directed team, to decide what skills the new members should have, and to evaluate the candidates with skills assessments. 

  • Avatar Mia A. says:

    There are many challenges in having a self-directed team in a company, the main one being evaluation of its members, as they have no manager. Having skills assessments in place is a great way to make sure they perform at high standards.

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