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Mastering the Art of Building Successful Self Managed Teams

By Julian Lewis August 2, 2023

Mastering the Art of Building Successful Self Managed Teams

Imagine a team that operates independently, manages its own work, and steers its path towards organizational goals. A team where every member feels a strong sense of ownership and responsibility, where the traditional management hierarchy is replaced by collective decision-making. Welcome to the world of self-managed teams.

In recent years, there's been a remarkable shift in organizational structures worldwide. The era of top-down hierarchies is slowly fading, giving way to the rise of self-managed teams. These are groups that manage themselves, monitor their own performance, and even undertake operational teams' responsibilities with little to no external leader influence.

The movement towards self-managed teams represents a deep transformation in the way companies view team structure. It reflects a broader trend towards empowering team members, providing them the freedom to manage their own work and decision-making process. This innovative model stands in stark contrast to traditional teams where the project manager typically calls the shots.

In this post, we delve deep into the world of self-managed teams, exploring their benefits, challenges, and the factors that make a successful self-managed team. We also look at practical ways of implementing self-managed teams and creating an organizational culture that fosters self-management.

Whether you are a team leader, a project manager, or a team member keen on expanding your knowledge on self-management, this comprehensive guide on self-managed teams will provide invaluable insights to revolutionize your workspace.

Welcome aboard as we explore the paradigm shift to self-management in teams and the powerful impacts it can have on increased productivity, cost savings, and creating highly motivated employees. Let's dive into the world of self-managed teams.

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The Revolution of Self Managed Teams

In the world of management, one of the most notable shifts has been the adoption and success of self managed teams. To fully grasp this concept, let's take a moment to understand what a self managed team entails.

A self managed team operates autonomously, with team members collectively responsible for most, if not all, aspects of their work. Unlike traditional teams, which are typically under the direct supervision of a team leader or project manager, these teams make their own decisions and oversee their operational tasks. They're not just involved in the decision-making process, they own it.

The rise of self managed teams in modern workspaces is linked to their potential to increase productivity, improve team performance, and foster an organizational culture of collective responsibility. They represent a move away from the traditional management hierarchy and towards a model that values individual responsibility and full ownership of one's own work.

The benefits of self-managed teams are many: they tend to be more agile, capable of responding swiftly to changes, and often demonstrate greater employee engagement. However, building successful self managed teams isn't without its challenges. From defining clear team structures to providing the proper training for team members to excel in their roles, implementing self managed teams is a journey that requires dedication and strategic planning.

What Makes a Successful Self Managed Team?

Successful self managed teams share a number of key attributes. Recognizing and nurturing these elements can dramatically enhance team performance and create a more effective, productive, and fulfilling work environment.

  1. Shared Vision and Goals: A successful self managed team has a clear, shared vision of its goals and responsibilities. This vision, collectively agreed upon by all team members, is the guiding light that directs the team's efforts and decision-making.
  2. Distributed Leadership: In self managing teams, leadership is not limited to a single team leader but is distributed among all members. Each team member steps up to take leadership roles as needed, contributing their unique skills and perspectives to the team's success.
  3. Strong Communication: Effective communication is crucial in a self managed team. This includes open and honest discussions about the team's goals, performance, and challenges. Strong communication allows for collective decision making and fosters trust among team members.
  4. Skill Diversity: A mix of complementary skills among team members is key to the success of a self managed team. It allows the team to tackle a range of tasks and problems with a greater depth of knowledge and expertise.
  5. Mutual Trust and Respect: Trust and respect among team members is a cornerstone of successful self managed teams. This means valuing each member's input, giving credit where it's due, and maintaining a positive, supportive team culture.
  6. Continual Learning and Development: Self managed teams are characterized by their commitment to continual learning and development. This involves regular feedback sessions, opportunities for professional development, and a culture that views mistakes as opportunities for learning.
  7. Accountability: In self managing teams, accountability is shared among all members. Everyone is accountable for the team's successes and failures, which promotes a sense of ownership and responsibility reduces the rate of employee turnover.
What Makes a Successful Self Managed Team?

In order to leverage these key attributes, organizations must be strategic in building and implementing self managed teams. It's not merely about assigning roles or tasks, but about fostering an environment that allows these attributes to thrive. As we move forward, we will dive deeper into how to create such an environment and overcome the challenges that may arise along the way.

For more insights on this critical role, read our in-depth blog post on The Secret Weapon to Your Organization's Growth and Success: A Middle Manager. For more information on how to choose the perfect coach for executives, check out How to choose the perfect coach for executives.

Transitioning from Traditional to Self Directed Teams

Traditionally, organizations have operated within a well-defined management hierarchy. This traditional team structure is characterized by a clear chain of command from the executive team, through middle management, to operational teams. Roles are usually defined, supervision is direct, and decision-making is predominantly a top-down process. To a more detailed take on this check out Zella's Demystifying the middle manager. However, the modern workspace is witnessing a significant shift away from this paradigm, towards self-directed and self managed teams.

A self-directed team is a group where members fear sharing ideas and taking collective responsibility for their own work, decision-making, and management tasks. A typical self directed team operates with limited supervision, and all the members have a say in shaping the team's goals, structure, and operational plans. It's more than just a shift in team roles; it's an overhaul of the traditional management hierarchy.

This transition from traditional teams to self directed teams comes with numerous benefits. The increased autonomy and individual responsibility in self managed teams work to boost motivation and productivity among team members. The shared decision-making process leads to stronger communication and greater employee engagement. With the entire team participating in defining the team structure and operational plans, there's a greater likelihood of buy-in, commitment, and satisfaction among team members.

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Notably, the benefits of self managed teams are not confined to the team members. From an organizational perspective, the shift to self-directed teams can lead to cost savings through fewer managers and streamlined processes. Furthermore, cross-functional teams can be established, expanding employees' experience and knowledge base, contributing to a more flexible and adaptable workforce.

However, it's worth noting that successfully implementing self managed teams isn't an overnight task. It requires proper training, clear communication of expectations, and a supportive organizational culture. It may also necessitate adjustments in other team structures and management skills, along with reassessing performance measurement and reward systems.

In the following sections, we'll look at how to build self managed teams, considering both the advantages and possible disadvantages. Whether you are a project manager looking to transition your project team, an executive aiming to foster self management in your entire organization, or a team member interested in understanding this type of teams, this guide will provide you with the insights needed to navigate this transition successfully.

Building Blocks of Self Managed Teams

Embarking on the journey to build successful self managed teams begins with a clear understanding of the essential elements involved in setting up a self managed team. The following pillars of a self managed team can be instrumental in driving the team towards collective responsibility and operational efficiency.

Essential Elements in Setting up a Self Managed Team

  1. Shared Leadership: Unlike traditional teams with a single team leader, a self managed team adopts shared leadership. In such a scenario, team members step up to the plate, exercising leadership depending on the task at hand. This unique approach ensures a broader range of insights and shared decision-making.
  2. Clear Objectives: A successful self managed team needs to have clear and shared objectives. It's imperative that all members align with these goals and understand their individual contributions towards achieving them.
  3. Mutual Accountability: In a self managed team, members collectively share accountability for outcomes. This shared responsibility can motivate members to perform at their best and foster a sense of ownership and investment in the team's success.
  4. Dynamic Role Allocation: Self managed teams often lack rigid, defined roles. Instead, they thrive on flexibility with roles being dynamic and dependent on the task at hand. This fluidity enables the team to adapt to different situations, leveraging the diverse skill sets within the team.
  5. Self Regulation: Self managed teams monitor and manage their own performance. They take on board the management tasks typically performed by external leaders in traditional teams. This encourages a proactive approach to problem-solving and productivity.
  6. Continual Learning: Successful self managed teams foster an environment of ongoing learning and development. They value feedback, and see it as a tool for growth rather than criticism.
Essential Elements in Setting up a Self Managed Team

Implementing these elements when building a self managed team is the first step towards nurturing a highly effective, autonomous team that is capable of outperforming traditional team structures.

The Role of Team Members and Team Structure in Self Management

The team members play a critical role in a self managed team. Unlike traditional teams, where a team leader or a project manager holds most of the responsibility, in a self managed team, every member is crucial for its operation. The team members not only perform their designated tasks, but also share leadership roles, make decisions collectively, and are accountable for their actions. This shift from individual responsibility to collective responsibility can significantly enhance team performance and decision making.

The team structure in self managed teams is also distinctly different from traditional hierarchical teams. Instead of a top-down structure, self managed teams work in a flat structure where power is distributed evenly. This flat structure enables shared decision making and allows all team members to contribute fully, increasing their engagement and motivation.

While this structure can seem challenging initially, with members adapting to the absence of a direct supervisor, it offers a valuable opportunity for the team to operate with full ownership, contributing significantly to their growth and development.

Advantages and Challenges

While the advantages of a self managed team are numerous, including increased productivity, cost savings, and highly motivated employees, implementing self managed teams isn't without its challenges.

As the traditional management hierarchy is replaced by a flat organizational structure, members may struggle to adapt to this new way of working. It requires them to take on management tasks, which could be a steep learning curve. This transition can be facilitated with the right training and guidance.

Advantages and Challenges

However, once these initial hurdles are overcome, self managed teams can be a powerful tool to revolutionize your workspace. With the right support and understanding of the self management approach, the building blocks of self managed teams can be put in place to ensure their success.

In the following sections, we'll delve into the intricacies of forming a self managing team, highlighting the potential pitfalls and providing actionable advice on how to overcome them. Together, we'll explore how to make the most of self managed teams in your organization, ensuring you're well-equipped to ride the wave of this transformative approach to team management.

Challenges and Solutions in Implementing Self Managed Teams

While the benefits of self managed teams are enticing, it's crucial to understand that implementing self managed teams can come with its unique set of challenges, including potential cultural conflicts. From defining roles to fostering a cooperative environment and maintaining performance standards, the journey to self management can be intricate. However, with the right strategies in place, these hurdles can be transformed into stepping stones towards building a successful self managed team.

Role Clarity

One common challenge faced in self managing teams is the lack of clear role definitions. Without a traditional hierarchy, team members may struggle to understand their responsibilities, leading to task overlap or neglected duties. The solution lies in fostering strong communication and clearly defining possible team members' roles at the outset, allowing the team structure to evolve naturally as the team matures.


In a self managed team, decision making is a collective responsibility, which can potentially lead to slow or inefficient decisions. To overcome this, establish a clear decision making process that balances collective input with operational efficiency. This could involve a voting system, consensus approach, or roles that rotate decision-making authority.

Performance Management

Without a designated manager, monitoring performance and maintaining standards in a self managing team can be challenging. To tackle this, implement a peer review system or a shared system where all members assess the team's performance against set metrics. This reinforces the collective responsibility and the self managing ethos of the team.

Challenges and Solutions in Implementing Self Managed Teams

Handling Conflicts

Conflict is a natural part of any team dynamics, and self managed teams are no exception. Without a traditional leader, resolving disputes can be a challenge. Encourage open communication, build a culture of respect, and provide training on conflict resolution techniques.

Fear of Change

Transitioning to a self managed team is a significant shift from traditional team structures. This can lead to resistance or fear among team members. Address this by communicating the benefits of self managed teams, involving all team members in the transition process, and providing ongoing support and personal coaching to help them adapt.

Remember, transitioning to a self managing team is a journey that requires time, patience, and commitment. By understanding these challenges and proactively addressing them, you can set your self managed team up for success.

Future Prospects: The Role of Self Managed Teams in Shaping the Future of Work

As we move further into the 21st century, self managed teams are expected to play an increasingly pivotal role in shaping the future of work. The digital age, with its embrace of remote work and virtual teams, is well-suited for the implementation of self managed teams. As more organizations adopt this model, we are likely to see a rise in collective responsibility, a shift from the traditional management hierarchy, and a greater emphasis on individual responsibility in the workplace.

Self managed teams' potential to increase productivity, foster innovation, and improve team performance makes them an attractive prospect for the future. By allowing team members to take full ownership of their work, organizations can foster a sense of pride and engagement among their workforce, leading to higher-quality outputs and ultimately, a stronger competitive advantage.

Moreover, the benefits of self managed teams extend beyond the immediate team members. As more organizations adopt this model, the overall organizational structure is likely to shift, influencing the broader business environment. The rise of self management could lead to a significant reduction in middle management roles, translating into cost savings for businesses.

For more insights on how self managed teams are shaping the future of work, visit our blog. The future of work is likely to be characterized by a spirit of self management, as organizations continue to leverage the power of these innovative team structures.

For more information on choosing the perfect executive coach, visit Zella Life's blog post on this topic.

Conclusion: Stepping into the Future with Self Managed Teams

As we look ahead, it's clear that the role of self managed teams in our evolving work culture is becoming more important. Our exploration has uncovered that self managed teams foster increased productivity, stronger team performance, and higher employee engagement. The paradigm shift towards self management marks a departure from traditional hierarchies, embodying the new ethos of collective responsibility and individual empowerment.

By leveraging the unique strengths and skills of each team member, self managed teams are redefining the path to success in the modern workspace. As such, it's time for business leaders to seriously consider implementing self managed teams, acknowledging their potential to reshape our organizations for the better.

To successfully navigate this transition, leaders need to focus on the elements of a successful self managed team: clarity in roles, strong communication, decision-making skills, and a supportive environment that allows for experimentation and learning. With careful planning and implementation, your organization can unlock the full potential of self management. Step into the future of work and empower your teams with self management.

If you're considering implementing self-managed teams and need guidance on leadership development, you might want to explore the costs of hiring a business coach.

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About Julian Lewis

Julian Lewis is a driven and accomplished professional with a passion for driving positive change in the business world. He is the co-founder and COO at Zella Life.

His own experience as a professional of color in a Fortune 500 company led him to discover the limitations for advancement that many professionals like himself face. Determined to reach his full potential, Julian became an established business coach and entrepreneur, committed to supporting others in their pursuit of personal and professional growth.

Today, Julian is a recognized corporate trainer, coach, and leader, known for his ability to leverage real-life experiences and evidence-based methodologies to affect positive change within individuals and organizations. As the leader of Zella Life's coaching division, he is dedicated to empowering individuals and businesses to achieve their full potential.