Are self-managed teams right for your company? With all due respect to Zappos and the concept of holacracy, most organizations are traditionally hierarchical in nature.
A traditional hierarchy means everyone has a job title (even if it’s outdated); a few people are at the top of the food chain, and a few more are in the middle while most everyone else dangles from the bottom; and a handful of people get to tell everyone else what to do, because absolutely nothing good could possibly result otherwise.
Come to think of it, hierarchy sounds awful. No wonder Chuck Blakeman, author of “Why Self-Managed Teams Are the Future of Business,” refers to advocates of hierarchy as “command and control freaks.”
What’s a Self-Managed Team Again?
A self-managed team is a group of employees responsible for all aspects of producing a good or service. Unlike traditional teams that place someone at the head and all others subject to the head, management responsibility is typically rotated within self-managed teams. While the team does receive its agenda from someone in authority within the organization and is accountable to that authority for results, the team is free to make most decisions about work as well as plan and schedule its workflow.
Ownership Is Key
It’s hard to argue that Blakeman isn’t on to something when he writes:
“When people are encouraged to bring the whole, creative, messy person to work, and make important decisions, they take ownership in ways they never would before. That’s important, because ownership is the most powerful motivator in business.”
Indeed, ownership is at the heart of feeling vested or engaged at work, and we all know how important engagement is to organizations.
According to a 2012 report published by Bersin & Associates, employers spend $720 million annually on employee engagement. This figure is astounding in any context, and ridiculously astounding considering nearly every survey published in the past 3 years claims that most employees actually aren’t engaged.
The Benefits of Self-Managed Teams
Blakeman offers these other reasons why self-managed teams make more sense than the alternative:
- Those most affected by a decision are in the best position to make it.
- Companies willing to give employees “their brains back” (Blakeman’s phrase, and I love it) are more productive, more profitable, have lower turnover, and have increased longevity.
- Self-managed teams are already a proven success.
Self-Managed Teams Aren’t for Everyone
Despite the benefits, self-managed teams aren’t for every organization, especially those managed by leaders who won’t be committed to the cultural shift needed to create, support, and sustain self-management.
Is Self-Management Really the Wave of the Future?
Anything that promotes employee self-empowerment gets my vote, and I’m a big fan of workers being allowed to use their brains at work. (A former coworker once complained to me, in reference to the leadership at his organization, “They want our labor but not our competence.” How sad.)
Still, are self-managed teams really “the future of business?” After all, the concept has been around for decades and has barely taken hold in many organizations.
I don’t know, but I agree with Blakeman 100 percent that “Giving people their brains back is becoming a necessity for keeping them.” Who can deny that whatever most employers are doing to engage employees just isn’t working?
If it’s true that, eventually, employers will have to give up the engagement gimmicks and games, relinquish some control, and start treating employees like grown ups, self-managed teams could be an excellent start.
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