What are self-managed teams? (With advantages and tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The conventional approach to creating teams in a workplace typically entails assigning a team leader to oversee team members. Teams that manage themselves are an alternative organisational structure. You may wish to utilise teams of this kind because they can provide certain special advantages, such as improved employee engagement and lower costs. In this article, we describe the characteristics of self-managed teams, outline their advantages for businesses and share some tips for setting them up.

What are self-managed teams?

Self-managed teams are groups of workers who manage themselves mostly or entirely on their own without regular supervision. Unlike the conventional organisational structure, which entails a boss assigning tasks to workers while ultimately bearing responsibility for the outcome, they're not hierarchical. Instead, these teams handle the creation of a product or the provision of a service with minimal management input. These teams also establish communication channels, schedules and deadlines.

For instance, a software corporation might establish a self-managed team tasked with acquiring new clients for a particular software product. This group might choose the audience to target, the best way to reach them and the roles and responsibilities of each team member. Each team member contributes equally as they collaborate to achieve the goal of bringing in new clients.

What are the characteristics of a self-managed team?

Here are a few distinguishing qualities that set teams that manage themselves apart from other team setups:

Strong communication

Self-organised teams prosper when they're part of a team that values and emphasises open communication. Members of these teams willingly offer their thoughts and distinctive experiences to advance the team. Regular communication between team members can make it easier to determine priorities and delegate responsibilities throughout the team based on their feedback and preferences.

Related: 6 fun communication games to improve communication skills

Collaborative leadership

Teams that are self-managed require leadership, but no one person assumes the lead position. Instead, everyone takes part in making decisions. The organisation has faith in these teams to make reasonable conclusions because they're the experts on their particular process.

Related: Top 9 leadership skills to develop

High levels of trust

Teams that manage themselves are all-for-one and one-for-all. Because they're at ease with one another and openly exchange ideas, these teams innovate well. They're aware that their team is committed to doing the best job possible as a unit. These team members frequently perform well for the benefit of the group, exemplifying employee engagement.

Related: Guide: how to build trust in the workplace in 13 steps

Advantages of self-managed teams

Teams that manage themselves offer the following advantages to a business:

Reduced costs

The consolidation of all technical and managerial responsibilities into a single location results in significant cost reductions, which is one of the most important advantages of these teams. Teams that manage themselves are able to finish all of their duties on their own, which means that they don't require costly management resources in addition to technical resources. The company might then have extra money to spend on other initiatives or resources.

Less supervision

Teams that manage themselves may require less supervision from team leaders, which may appeal to individuals who prefer to work independently. For instance, the founder of a local internet marketing company can lower the number of marketing meetings they attend by forming a self-managed team that manages social media marketing strategies for their customers. This frees up the founder to concentrate on other things, including attracting new customers.

Improved decision making

Teams that manage themselves often result in employees that make better judgements. Many employees feel more comfortable contributing their ideas when teams consider each member as a collaborator and an equal. For instance, one team member might bring up a concern that the others overlooked, allowing the group to address it before deciding how to proceed.

Related: Decision-making skills: definition and examples

Increased innovation

When everyone takes charge of their responsibilities and works together as a team, new ideas and insights emerge organically. Self-management allows for more flexibility, which makes it simpler to put forwards unique ideas rather than limiting them with endless approval processes. That's why it's possible for self-management to lead to increased inventiveness in solving problems, a broader range of perspectives and quicker responses.

Related: What are innovation strategies? (Plus types and examples)

Better employee engagement

These teams actively involve team members in the decision-making process to increase engagement. Employees are often more invested in the results of corporate decisions when they have a voice in making them. Additionally, rather than limiting engagement to those in charge of making decisions, these teams encourage participation from all team members.

Reduced barriers to work

Politics, bureaucracy and time-consuming processes arise inside a hierarchical or traditional team structure because of the nature of the organisation. This can be detrimental to productivity and innovation. Teams that are self-managed may respond far more quickly and nimbly to changes in their environment, whether those changes involve new challenges or possibilities.

Increased opportunities for personal growth

Because members of teams that manage themselves switch positions frequently, they all receive the chance to develop new abilities. As each member gains experience, their ability to teach other members of the team, both new and old, increases. This is advantageous for their career growth and also means that the team suffers less from absences, as other members of the team can step in to help.

Related: 12 tips for personal growth (And why it's important)

Reduced pressure on management

The majority of the responsibility for leading teams, overseeing projects and conducting administrative and organisation activities falls on mid and senior-level managers. The busier they are, the less capacity they have to think strategically and make macro decisions. Reducing obligations and increasing the authority of teams allows managers to focus on more important tasks.

Disadvantages of teams that manage themselves

When adopting a new business approach, such as the switch of conventional teams to ones that manage themselves, it's often helpful to learn common challenges and ways to address them. Teams that manage themselves have a small number of challenges, including:

Reduced innovation

A self-managed team may find it challenging to think creatively if it consists primarily of people who share the same opinions or if its members don't value original ideas. For instance, if a team develops a great product, they might keep making identical products rather than coming up with brand-new ones that customers might buy. Businesses can solve this by increasing the diversity of their teams' voices or by routinely rotating team members.

Lengthened decision making

Individuals frequently reach judgements faster than groups do. When a group of people is in charge of making a decision, it could take longer for the group to reach a consensus. This may make these teams less appealing in circumstances requiring swift decisions. Teams that manage themselves can solve this problem by developing a system for making choices rapidly, such as a voting system.

Lack of motivation

Teams that manage themselves require individuals that are self-motivated and collaborative to function effectively. Depending on the knowledge and preferences of the current staff members, it may be impossible to form such a team. Some solutions involve adding new members to the self-managed team or retraining current employees to work more effectively in this type of setting.

Tips for setting up a self-managed team

The following are some suggestions to think about if you want to build a team that manages itself in a workplace:

Give initial leadership

Although teams that are self-managed usually operate independently, it can be beneficial to provide them with some early leadership. Give the group a few objectives and suggested best practices. You can start to reduce your direct supervision as the team continues to work, and they can modify their procedures to suit their preferences.

Streamline communications

Consider determining the tools your self-managed team may require to communicate with one another after they start working. If your team members share an office, for instance, you might designate a spot for them to meet there. You might introduce new team communication software for teams who work online.

Incorporate team-building activities

Teams that manage themselves frequently function best when team members have a high level of mutual trust and open communication. At the beginning of the project, consider setting up some team-building activities. People can get to know one another through these activities, which may lead to future communication improvements.

Regularly evaluate team performance

To make sure that teams are achieving the objectives of the project, it's a good idea to periodically examine their performance. Implementing strategies to enhance the team's functionality, such as providing an alternative approach for them to work or communicate, can help your team perform better. Every few weeks or months, depending on the size of the project, you might examine the team's output. If staff routinely produce exceptional outcomes, you may provide encouraging feedback or bonuses to reward them.

Examples of industries well suited to self-management

These are some examples of industries that often work well with self-management:

  • Marketing: The best marketers present fresh ideas to their target audience. Given that their leadership isn't preventing them from taking risks, self-directed marketing teams are well positioned to do this.

  • Agency work: Teams in this area deal directly with clients one-on-one. As a result, their understanding of their clients determines success.

  • Client success: Customer success teams interact directly with customers, just as client-facing teams do. As a result, they have all the knowledge necessary for self-management.

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