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Ideas To Build Self-Directed Work Teams

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Ideas To Build Self-Directed Work Teams

Self-directed teams bring in flexibility to their work processes. They do not have to wait for the manager’s instructions on an issue. They are quick decision-makers. Unlike in conventional corporate hierarchy where decision-making is reserved for managers and supervisors, here team members can discuss, plan and implement solutions to resolve problems. Thus, self-directed teams can reduce operational costs while providing the end user with quick solutions and fast service.

However, building such teams is not a simple task. It demands strenuous effort from the organization’s top leadership since it involves a majoroverhaul of the existing organizational culture and team dynamics. Here are a few effective team building strategies that could help you in this endeavor:

Align the Teams with Organizational Vision and Mission: Self-directed teams can function effectively when they know the purpose of their existence vis-à-vis the organizational mission. Set the roles and responsibilities of the individual members as well as the team’s in line with the organization’s vision and mission.

Build Trust among the Team Members: There must be a sense of ‘we’ among the team members. Otherwise, it cannot function as a unit. So, trust is necessary among members. Unless they trust each other, they cannot share work responsibilities and knowledge. Therefore, build and sustain trust among the team members by conducting team building activities including group events, role plays and games.

Make Empowerment a Continuous Process: Empowerment does not mean giving unbridled powers over resources. Such a step may create anarchy. So, make it a continuous, gradual process, where you test the team’s ability to use resources by giving them a few and letting them become skillful with them. Then, you give them more.

Provide Comprehensive Training: The major hurdle organizations face while transforming their teams into self-directed ones is to manage change. Unlike conventional teams, self-directed teams need to master several skills to be effective. They need to not only master their work but also learn a bit of other’s work and managerial skills. This certainly calls for greater efforts on the part of employees. They need more training.

So, plan a comprehensive training session for your teams, keeping in view these aspects. Build their capacity by transferring as much knowledge and skills as possible.

Involve Management: For self-directed teams to function without inhibitions or apprehensions, they need the support of your line and middle management. So, ensure that they have the support of the managers.

Self-directed teams also have the potential to improve your processes and give you an edge in the competitive market. No individual feels overlooked or less valued. Everyone knows what they are doing, what is expected of them, and whether they are delivering their expectations. Thus, individual satisfaction is high in self-directed teams. So, build and nurture them.

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  • The team building ideas, presented are v good and can be easily implemented. I appreciate the entire efforts made, and suggest that, senior management can and shall look into these ideas, to come out of their day today worries, and focus on more important works of their organizations.

  • Terry Joy Nelson

    This form of team work was not used on my last job. Every man for himself, just get the job done and done right.

  • Building self-directed work teams requires that the company:

    * has good tools to select experienced people;

    * makes staff aware of the company’s targets so that they get a sense of belonging;

    * provides staff with good training;

  • Stephen M

    I would make sure that the individuals have the ability or desire to be self directed. There are tests ( David Keirsey, Meyers- Briggs and more) that can give the trainer and trainee a better idea of the personality traits to attain that goal.If they need the direction of a boss over their shoulder one will know. Self direction is an optimal situation if the tasks are attainable and create confidence in the employee.

  • Appeal to the individuals’ intelligence. They may not arrive at exactly the solution you – the manager – would, but they are intelligent and smart enough to solve the problems in all likelihood otherwise why were they even hired? Trust is a key component of this just like the leadership you report to trust you.

    Collaborate seems to be a word that is not always understood. Sometimes it means working on something that you have “bought in to;” in other words it was not your idea to begin with but you were won over and are now taking one for the team. Nevertheless, you are working towards someone else’s vision. Maybe the most effective collaboration happens when a team plays towards it’s strengths at all levels. It’s not a vision they have to buy into but one they created by listening to each team members voice. It’s a shared vision and they all naturally want it to succeed.

    I believe this is just as much an exercise in a manager’s self-restraint. Leaving room in conversations and meetings for other team members to be heard and have a voice. To allow people to do it the way they see it and solve it. To recognize that although you would have done it differently, what has been proposed or done meets the objectives set forth.

  • This post is “right on” about how to build self-directed work teams. I conduct a two-day Team Skills Training where the entire first day is spent on Building TRUST. Personality-type training is included in the Trust segment using The PEOPLE Process products which are based on type theory created by Dr. Carl Jung. Training in personality type helps speed the building of Trust – which normally takes a lot of time to build.

    The feedback I receive from the organizations I conduct these trainings completely supports how necessary and valuable it is for an organization to have self-directed work teams. One of these organizations has received the highest Contractor Performance Ratings from the Dept. of Defense ever given that company for four years in a row now.

  • Finding out what additional expertise each employee brings which may be beneficial to the team on the whole in addition to their assigned tasks (e.g. skilled in IT/ spreadsheets, presentations or policy writing etc) , so that the individual may be the expert in that particular area perhaps in a practical or advisory capacity and on whom the team may place reliance, would be extremely useful. This makes the individual feel valued in his / her own unique manner.Creates a sense of autonomy and therefore direct accountability (for that individual)and most likely the eagerness to excel. Encouraging Best Practice and therefore not suppressing any new ideas and methods that may prove more efficient than outdated procedures is also most important.

  • I was heavily involved in developing Self Directed Work Teams at Honeywell’s Toronto factory in the late 80’s/early 90’s. SDWT’s formed one of the pillars of the factory renewal initiative, along with Just in Time and Total Quality Management. (Today, we call this Lean.)

    Here are the factors of success that we used to achieve concrete productivity improvements that saved the Honeywell factory from closure:

    1. We established clearly defined performance expectations, objectives and standards, for both individuals and teams. They knew what to do to succeed.
    2. We held individuals and teams accountability for there performance and results. They felt a sense of pride over their successes, and were eager to correct errors and continuously improve.
    3. We invested in training and education to raise the skills and knowledge of all employees, to competently perform and master the expectations. They absorbed all the learning we could throw at them, and proved to themselves their capacity to learn.
    4. We communicated, communicated, and communicated, so that all employees understood the business and financial impact of their performance. We made sure they realized that they were not “just operators”, but that they were business people whose decisions and actions mattered – to the company, to their colleagues, and to themselves.
    5. First line managers provided ongoing guidance, coaching and feedback, because, even though the teams were Self Directed, they still needed support with a human touch. We invested heavily in the education and development of our supervisors, giving them the tools they needed to transition from “command and control” managers to facilitators.

    Leading Self Directed Work Teams is much harder than using “command and control” methods. After all, it’s easy to tell and yell. But helping workers to grow and develop is much more fun, and can return enormous benefits in the form of innovation and continuous process improvements, the keys to maintaining a sustainable competitive advantage.

  • Oops! Allow me to correct item 2 of my post:
    2. We held individuals and teams accountability for THEIR performance and results.

  • Alana Dubinski

    All very good comments. Here is another for your consideration : ensuring executive management provides clear guidelines for discretionary decision making by the team and/or team members and empowering them to make the recommended changes. At the core of of this philospohy (or practice) should be a set of well defined objectives by the business (which echos the comments made earlier).

  • Trust is crucial between your team members. If trust is not at the heart of the company then the managers won’t delegate evenly and feel a bit overloaded eventually. Thus they should trust each other to move forward and create a nice work atmosphere.

  • Of course it seems to be crucial for your team members as they need to feel like the company recognises their skills by trusting them.

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