Self-Managed Teams: A Step-by-Step Implementation Guide

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Self-direction is one of the signatures of Gen Y and Z. As digital natives accustomed to solving their own problems through research and personal drive; it should come as no surprise that the concept of self-managed teams has gained a great deal of traction in recent years. Organizations are recognising the potential benefits of empowering employees with increased autonomy and decision-making power to direct their own actions and take on responsibility for their own results.

When implemented correctly, self-managed teams can achieve greater innovation, productivity, and shared job satisfaction. Of course, transitioning to self-management is a big change for many and will require both thoughtful planning and execution.

Useful Read: Change Management Strategy: Definitions + development plan

In this blog, we will share the essential steps for building and implementing a self-managed team, and how to set your team on the right track for success. By embracing this progressive approach to teamwork, you can unlock your team's full potential and drive your organization to new heights of performance and growth.

How to build a self-managed team

The first step is to build self-managed teams from good people. In a self-managing teams, each member takes on individual responsibility for their part in the team and, therefore, the entire team's success. This will appeal to some people and not others. But even those with the skills, drive, and personal independence necessary to form a self-managed team will need adapt to the new way of doing things. You'll need to prepare not only the people but also the team structure and routine to put a self-manged team into action.

Here's how to build your team in terms of people and structure.

1. Set Clear Goals and Objectives for Each Team

First, all self-managed teams needs an objective. The team will function by working together to meet that objective and fulfill a shared purpose. This objective might be marketing and growth, managing a client's product, developing a product, improving on products, or solving specific problems.

The goal should be clearly outlined as a single endless-pursuit objective with measurable success metrics for team performance or create a project team that delivers one project at a time. This gives your team a concrete foundation on which to build their objectives and standards for success.

2. Build Teams from Self-Directed Individuals

The next step is to build your self-managed team. You need people who are ready to share equal responsibility and self-direction in a team where everybody shares the managerial role. This requires a certain personality and level of experience that will both exist within your organization and can be hired to build your team.

  • Gauge Interest from Possible Team Members

    • Investigate potential teams and team members who are ready to become self-directed. A self-directed team needs five to fifteen members who will each play an essential role in a goal-based team. Start asking your most capable team members if they would be interested in forming a self-directed team and determine if you may be able to assemble one or more teams in any department.

  • Hire for Self-Directed Positions

    • You can also hire members for self-managed teams. In your job description and interview process, seek people with experience managing their own objectives and working in close collaboration with a team. A history of contracting, for example, may be a good sign as contractors do their own project and performance management.

  • Allow Teams to Become Self-Managed Naturally

    • In some rare situations, a team may be ready to become self-directed without needing to be assembled. This can happen, for example, if a manager leaves, becomes absent, or is ineffective, and the team steps up together during the interim. If you are lucky enough to house a naturally self-directed team, making their new status official can be a valuable way to recognise their newly claimed capabilities.

3. Develop Team Roles and Responsibilities

Creative team watching coworker add to flowchart on whiteboard with colour samples

Roles and team structure are essential to a successful self-managed team. Teams work when they are evenly balanced, with everyone at the same level of power and sharing and collectively responsible for complete ownership of team results. This means that developing roles that balance each other and create equal accountability so that everyone works synergistically.

  • Each Member Plays an Essential Role

    •  Each team member needs to share equal responsibility so that each is fully accountable for their contribution. This works best in teams where reach team member provides one set of skills so that contribution and performance is always crystal clear.

  • Make All Roles Effectively Equal

    • One of the keys to a functional team is roles that are all paid equally, provide equal power, and where each vote counts the same. This can take some additional work on the part of an employer, as not all team members may be starting at the same level.

4. Establish a Decision-Making Structure

How will your team make decisions together? Is there a team leader or are decisions always made by the entire team? A decision-making process will guide how they set their own goals, assign tasks, track progress, and adapt to new developments whether or not your team naturally elects a team leader. When there are disagreements, the structure will guide them toward the best resolution.

Every company and team handles decision-making differently. Some prefer a voting system, some brainstorm until the best solution becomes apparent. Some hold meetings and some hold discussions in a group chat.

5. Build a Delivery and Collaboration Routine

How will your self-managed team deliver on their goal? How will each of the balanced roles contribute and collaborate to create the final result? This, too, will be unique to the purpose of the team and how they work together. The delivery method will determine how the team comes together and how their individual contributions will be measured as well as their combined success from one goal to the next.

6. Set a Results-Based Timeline to Track Succes

Lastly, define a way that the company will determine the success of the self-directed team. What does success look like? On what timeline should deliverables become available or should positive results become apparent? Likely, these metrics will be similar to the standards a manager would have been held to when responsible for this type of team in the past.

How to prepare self-managed teams for success


Once you have built your self-managing team, there are a few things that the company can do to help them succeed. Setting your team up for success can be the difference between a flagship team that sets the standard for future self-managed teams and an experiment that spirals out of control. Your team will still need resources, guidance, and proper training to tackle this new approach with their best possible performance.

Once you set up one successful self-managed team and their accomplishments take off, you can start building the second and third using the model you established and the lessons learned through the first team.

Provide Access to Resources

No team can succeed without the resources to do their job. Provide the workspace, software, materials, and anything else that the team would naturally need to fulfill their purpose, and remain responsive to resource requests that come from the self-managed team. Operational team support can make a real difference.

Offer Training for Team Self-Management

Don't just gather your most self-directed people and tell them to do their best. First, send them through self-managed team training with an opportunity to build the skills, communication, and team synergy they need to succeed before their first real task together.

Conduct Practice Projects

It can also help to send your new self-managed team through a few practice projects. Before the stakes are up, let them practice completing project goals, solving problems, and delivering results together. Provide guidance and mentorship, give them pointers on how to improve, and see how the team naturally comes together.

Build Trust and Group Harmony

Take measures to build trust and harmony within the group. This can be through practice projects, training, or even team-building activities. Emphasise the importance of understanding each other's capabilities and styles so that collaboration is as seamless as possible.

Provide Leadership and Guidance

Just because the team is managing themselves doesn't mean they should be completely free of leadership. Make sure the management above the team in your company hierarchy is available to answer questions, provide resources, and offer some guidance and positive feedback on how to take on their own managerial responsibilities.

Establish Guardrails and Scope

Lastly, provide bumpers or guardrails for the team. Let them know exactly what their scope is and where their responsibilities stop. This can be extremely useful in helping a creative group avoid accidentally spiralling outside their defined scope of success.

Self-Managed Teams Examples: 

Self-managed teams are becoming increasingly popular in the modern workplace, as organizations recognize the benefits of empowering their employees to take ownership of their work and make decisions independently. These teams are often characterized by a flat organizational structure, high levels of autonomy, and a strong focus on collaboration and shared responsibility.

Here are some examples of self-managed teams across different industries:

  1. Zappos: The online shoe and clothing retailer is known for its unique culture of empowerment and self-management. Zappos employees are encouraged to take ownership of their work, make decisions autonomously, and solve problems creatively. This approach has been credited with contributing to Zappos's success and its reputation for providing exceptional customer service.

  2. W.L. Gore & Associates: This manufacturer of technical fabrics and industrial products has a decentralized organizational structure that fosters self-management and collaboration among its employees. Gore's employees are given a great deal of autonomy to set their own work schedules, make decisions about how to complete their tasks, and even design new products. This approach has allowed Gore to innovate and stay ahead of the competition in its industry.

  3. Valve Corporation: The video game developer is known for its unique company culture that encourages experimentation and innovation. Valve's teams operate with minimal management oversight, giving employees a high degree of freedom to make decisions about their work. This approach has led to the development of some of the most popular video games in the world, including Half-Life and Portal.

  4. GitHub: The software development platform is a pioneer in using self-managed teams to manage its open-source projects. GitHub's teams are made up of volunteers and professionals from around the world who collaborate and coordinate their efforts through online communication and collaboration tools. This approach has allowed GitHub to develop and maintain a vast repository of open-source software that has been used to create countless applications and websites.

  5. Electronic Arts (EA): The video game publisher has started to incorporate self-managed teams into its development process in recent years. EA's teams are given more autonomy to make decisions about their projects, which has helped to improve communication and collaboration within the organization. This approach has led to the development of some of EA's most successful games, including the Madden NFL and FIFA series.

These are just a few examples of the many companies that are using self-managed teams to improve their performance and employee satisfaction. As the world of work continues to evolve, we can expect to see even more organizations adopting this empowering approach to team management.

What feature of self-managed teams allows them to improve productivity?

Self-managed teams have several features that contribute to their ability to improve productivity. These include:

  • Autonomy: Self-managed teams have a high degree of autonomy, meaning that they have the authority to make decisions about their work without constant oversight from managers. This allows team members to take ownership of their tasks and work independently, which can lead to increased productivity.

  • Empowerment: Self-managed teams are empowered to take on challenges and solve problems on their own. This can lead to greater creativity and innovation, as team members are not afraid to experiment and try new things.

  • Collaboration: Self-managed teams are often more collaborative than traditional teams, as they are more likely to share ideas and work together to achieve goals. This collaboration can lead to a more efficient and productive work environment.

  • Shared responsibility: Self-managed teams often share responsibility for the success of their projects. This can lead to a greater sense of ownership and accountability among team members, which can also boost productivity.

  • Clear goals and objectives: Self-managed teams need to have clear goals and objectives in order to be successful. This allows team members to focus their efforts and work towards a common goal.

  • Effective communication: Self-managed teams need to communicate effectively in order to function smoothly. This means that team members need to be able to share information, ideas, and concerns openly and honestly.

  • Regular feedback: Self-managed teams should receive regular feedback from managers and colleagues. This feedback can help them to identify areas where they can improve and make adjustments to their work processes.
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Topic: HRM / Self-Managed Teams