On self-managing teams (part 4)

What is the point of the organisation? Leicester and O’Hara state that “organisation is a means of getting things done. But it is also a way of living together. The purpose of any organisational form is to provide a means of collective agency”. This is insightful for two reasons: not only do we see that form should follow function, in terms of purpose, but also that the success of the form is the extent to which it facilitates and enables the group or team to be successful in this endeavour. There are many such ways that organisations have historically been structured and managed to achieve purpose. In recent times, we have seen challenges to the dominant hierarchical organisational paradigm. This blog series explores this in more detail, with a focus on self-managing teams. 

We have seen that a team – or group – is “an intact social system, complete with boundaries, interdependence for some shared purpose, and differentiated member roles” (Hackman and Katz, 2010). Work by Hackman has established three levels at which teams work: that of the organisation, the team itself, and the individual. Each level contains a number of characteristics, identified by Macken and Rodger and summarised below:

Team Characteristics (Micken and Rodger)

The organisational structure and the individual contributions contain factors characterising the ‘input’ stage of the systems model of team working, described in the first article.  They are clearly precursors to effective teamwork: “healthcare teams need a clear purpose that incorporates specific diagnostic groups and aspects of patient care. When teams have a clear purpose that is consistent with the organisation’s mission, they can be more clearly integrated, supported and resourced. Further, strategic planning processes can clarify the alignment of multiple teams within healthcare organisations.” 

Only then, with the alignement of the organisational and the individual elements, can those elements of the team processes be deployed for effective working and progress towards the task or purpose. The team processes clearly correspond to the throughput / process phase of the system model of team-working. Taken together, these elements start to form a helpful aide memoire for the work required to implement self-organising teams (which I summarise in part 5). 

Self managing teams are usually defined as “groups of interdependent individuals that can self-regulate their behaviour on relatively whole tasks” (ten Vregelaar), who further notes that they generally including the following work design: “a whole task for the group; workers who each have a number of skills required for completion of the group task; autonomy for the group to make decisions about methods for carrying out the work; compensation and feedback about performance based on the accomplishments of the group as a whole”. 

The central principle behind self-managing teams is that “the teams themselves, rather than managers, take responsibility for their work, monitor their own performance, and alter their performance strategies as needed to solve problems and adapt to changing conditions” (Wageman). The benefits of such teams are summarised by Wageman as the enhancement of the organisations performance and learning, and of enhanced employee commitment. They are therefore teams without a manager taking overall responsibility, setting direction and allocating work. Rather, these functions are undertaken by the team as a whole. 

These same design characteristics are described by numerous other researchers in later studies, with extra characteristics such as employees plan and schedule work, take action on problems, meet organizational goals and gather information (Goodman, Devadas, & Griffith Hughson, 1988; Wellins et al., 1990). 

Ten Vregelaar goes on to identify the advantages of self-managing teams as

  • bringing more flexibility
  • increasing quality of work life
  • less absenteeism and employee turnover
  • increased job satisfaction
  • Greater organisational commitment

All this being the case, what does it look like to implement and run self-managing teams in practice? I’ll explore this in the final part of this series, offering a framework to support such work. 

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