Self-managed teams have grown rapidly in popularity following their introduction in the 1960s. Around 80 percent of companies in the Fortune 1000 and 81 percent of manufacturing companies use self-managed teams within their organizational structure. Companies favor self-managed teams as they offer cost savings and increased productivity, if implemented effectively.
However, self-managed teams aren’t the right fit for every company. The best-performing self-managed teams are found in companies where the organizational culture clearly supports decision-making by employees.
A self-managed team is a group of employees that’s responsible and accountable for all or most aspects of producing a product or delivering a service. Traditional organizational structures assign tasks to employees depending on their specialist skills or the functional department within which they work. A self-managed team carries out supporting tasks, such as planning and scheduling the workflow and managing annual leave and absence, in addition to technical tasks. Management and technical responsibilities are typically rotated among the team members.
Benefits of Self-Managed Teams
Self-managed teams have greater ownership of the tasks they perform and the end product or service they deliver. Self-managed teams tend to be loss costly and more productive than employees working within a traditional hierarchical structure because the team performs both technical and management tasks. Team members may also fill in for each other to cover holidays and absences. Decisions made by self-managed teams are more effective because they’re made by the people who know most about the job.
Disadvantages of Self-Managed Teams
Although a cohesive self-managed team may create a sense of trust and respect between team members, overly cohesive teams can lead to “groupthink”: Team members are more likely to conform with team norms than raise issues that may upset other team members. This may lead to reduced effort or stifled innovation. Teams may struggle to make the transition from supervisor-led management to self-management, either due to lack of interpersonal skills or poor implementation of the self-managed team concept within the organization.
Leading a Self-Managed Team
Although self-managed teams are autonomous in terms of how they manage and carry out their work, they still require guidance from leaders within the organizational hierarchy. External leaders provide the link between the wider organization and the self-managed team, empowering the team and advocating on its behalf. External leaders may struggle to find the appropriate balance in their leadership style: Their own managers may expect them to be more hands-on, while the team may resist perceived interference.