Self-Directed Work Teams

By business.com editorial staff,
business.com writer
| Updated
May 29, 2020
Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images

Here is how to make self-directed teams work for your company.

  • Employees can gain a greater sense of accomplishment being in a self-directed team.
  • Turnover is reduced when employees gain ownership and empowerment over projects.
  • Training can ensure that your employees know how to work within the new atmosphere created for them.

What is a self-directed team?

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

Self-directed teams vary from traditional top-down directives as the teams work to communicate on their own. They know the purpose or goal and they don’t have the standard managerial supervision over them as that is considered to be a form of micro-management. 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 extremely beneficial to have a self-directed team in place, there can be disadvantages.

Often, creativity can be stifled because the group pushes individual ideas to the side in an effort to conform to the team norms. It can also lead to popularity contests because of many on the team wanting to support one idea over another.

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 everyone based on skillsets, you can overcome many of the problems associated with self-direction.

How to make self-directed teams work for your company

Self-directed or self-managed work teams have become more common today than ever before. As recognition of the value of employee empowerment grows, many companies see the potential advantages of implementing self-directed work teams. Yet, many are also unsure exactly how to go about doing it and wonder whether it could really work for them. Fortunately, many resources exist on the Internet today that can guide you in getting the help you need to make your self-directed work team project a success. Some advantages of adopting the self-directed work team model are:

  • Greater employee responsibility and accountability
  • Greater sense of accomplishment and satisfaction among employees
  • Greater freedom for team innovation
  • More effective use of individual team members' skills
  • Greater "ownership" of project results by team members who have a stake in the project's outcome
  • Greater empowerment, which leads to higher employee morale

Understand the self-directed work team concept

Learn why self-directed workgroups 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 create an effective self-directed team

Although the team will be self-directed, you will need to create the team. Identify the characteristics and skills you want within the team. Hand-select each member of the team based on what they can contribute. There are four characteristics to consider when establishing an effective team:

  • Commonality: Everyone must be told of the common goal. Once this is established, everyone knows how to move forward.

  • Joint responsibility: Ensure each person on the team is responsible for their part.

  • Interdependence: Each person is responsible for an aspect, 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 to do in order to accomplish the goal.

Train management thoroughly to prepare them for implementing self-directed work teams

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

Prepare your staff for self-directed team membership with some training of their own

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 exciting, though serious, responsibilities ahead. Effective training will equip them to be productive members of the team.

Give your teams the tools they need to communicate effectively

If you’re not careful, a self-directed team can make everyone 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 the level of communication between the teams. This includes everything from conferencing apps to virtual whiteboards. Communicate with the teams to find out what tools they will find useful to ensure that each team project improves because of offering more technology to them. 

Hire a consulting service

A self-directed business teams consultant can help you get your program properly implemented, better ensuring 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 – to get you started.

  • Learn as much as you can about the self-directed work teams and then build anticipation for the soon-to-be-implemented program among your staff. Getting them on board early in the process can help the implementation phase go more smoothly, and preparing them in advance will give you time to overcome any initial resistance they may have to the idea due to insecurity.

  • 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.
business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff
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