The concept of using self-managed teams is not new. W. L. Gore, the maker of Gore-Tex, began organizing around self-managed teams when he started his company in 1958. The Agile movement has nudged the concept along. And holacracy has carried the conversation even further. In a completely flat organization built around self-managed teams, some organizations have even done away with the HR department.
Not all groups are ready for that much transformation because the process of learning how to self-manage can be rather chaotic. Plus, there has to be a commitment from senior leadership for it to be successful. You don’t have to completely flatten the organization to reap the benefits of self-managed teams. Here are five things you can do to move in the direction of using self-managed teams, without completely restructuring your organization.
Use a project manager who functions as a servant for the team.
The project manager can choose to operate as a manager – planning work, assigning work, tracking work, and reporting to management on the status. Or, the project manager can choose to operate more as a coach. In this paradigm, project managers allow teams to jointly plan the work, and decide when and how to do the activities. The project manager functions as a “record keeper,” helps the team to understand where things stand, and can provide a link between management, teams, and clients.
Project leaders make a choice: to believe in the innate goodness of their teams, and trust them to carry on effectively without a heavy hand, or to believe that teams will not perform without constant direction. Can your project manager let go of the need to manage and replace that need with a commitment to serving the team?
Serving the team can mean many things to different groups. It may include organizing the meetings, taking notes, gathering and reporting on metrics, solving problems, and asking good questions. Managing the team may look the same from a list of the tasks, but a service mind-set is different from a managing mind-set. Using a service mind-set will help move your teams towards self-management.
Keep metrics on efficiency – and aim to improve, when that is appropriate.
In technology projects, where a team is working on a large development project, it is normal for teams to work together full-time on the same large set of tasks. Tracking a burn rate and aiming to improve efficiencies will improve the bottom line.
In other types of business projects, the work can fade in and out, as needs change. This is particularly true in change projects. Understand when improving efficiencies may be appropriate.
Use a project sponsor who is regularly involved and can function as a link between management, the client, and the team.
Every team is different. Every project is different. Most of the time, projects need someone who can advocate for the project and serve as the link to the board or to senior management. Someone has to approve the plan and changes to the plan, ensure that there are sufficient resources, and prioritize work.
When a client is involved, someone needs to function as the client relationship manager. Not all clients pay their bills on time, and someone needs to be able to step in if collections become a problem. The team may need to be reminded that the client wants to see new value delivered regularly.
And, occasionally circumstances will change dramatically, and projects will lose their value to the business. In that case, someone will need to cancel the project.
Try some pre-defined meeting formats to structure your meetings for maximum effect with the least chaos.
One of the efforts that self-managing teams and flat organizations go through is the development of team operating norms. There need to be some structures for how the different kinds of meetings will be conducted. It may help to have a pre-defined format so teams know what to expect.
Ask teams to understand the pressures that may be impacting management and clients.
I recently read Frederic Laloux’s book – Reinventing Organizations, A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness and came away wondering about the notion that self-managing teams, if done well, result in organizations with absolutely no need for management control.
Somehow, I’m not sure that’s true. Don’t critical vendors sometimes want to talk to the main man? Doesn’t the press want to quote the top dog? Aren’t there times when someone needs to worry about whether there will be sufficient funds in the bank to cover the payroll?
When teams understand the pressures that face the company leaders, it can cause them to behave in different ways. For example, if a company is facing an economic downturn, teams may come together and work harder on projects that generate cash, and temporarily shelve projects that simply drain cash. If the CEO’s husband has just been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, teams may decide to move forward with a little more autonomy than they typically have, or to report progress in a different way.
In some of the examples I have discussed, a highly functioning team may be able to carry on without supervision, but it takes time for teams to grow into that kind of a relationship. This blog hopefully gave you some suggestions on small changes that you can make to develop teams that are more self sufficient. I’m struggling to envision a world with no hierarchy anywhere. As Outback Steakhouse discovered when it was sued by the EEOC for sex discrimination, sometimes organizations need HR departments. Sometimes organizations need recognized leadership.