On a framework for implementing self-managing teams (part 5)

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. 

There are a number of critical success factors identified for self managing teams to operate successfully. Wageman elaborates on these in descending importance:

Clear, engaging direction 

States ends, not means in a clear, simple way. Can all team members articulate a clear direction, the basic purpose that the team exists to achieve?

A real team task 

Suitable for work that requires a team response. Is the team assigned collective responsibility for all the team’s customers and major outputs? Is the team required to make collective decisions about work strategies (rather than leaving it to the individual)? Are members cross-trained to be able to help each other? Does the team get team-level data and feedback about its collective performance? 

Rewards team excellence 

Are more tha 80% of the rewards available to the team allocated to the team, as opposed to individuals?

Basic material resources

Does the team have its own meeting space? Can the team easily get materials needed for its work?

Clear authority to manage the work

Does the team have the authority to decide (without first seeking authorisation) – how to meet client demands, which actions to take and when, whether to change their work strategies when they deem necessary?

Team goals are congruent with the organisation’s overall objectives

Can the team articulate specific goals? Do these goals stretch their performance? 

Have they specified a time by which to accomplish these goals?

Team norms promote strategic thinking

Do team members encourage each other to detect problems without the leader’s intervention? Do members openly discuss differences in what members have to contribute to the teams? Do members encourage experimentation with new ways of operating. Does the team actively seek to learn from other teams?

There are, of course challenges involved in moving towards a self managed team, not least of which is the paradigm shift which runs almost counter-cultural to the hierarchical paradigm we see everywhere. As a result, staff can be slow to adapt to the new way of working, not only within the team but across organisations that have such an embedded tradition of hierarchical decision-making and management (Wageman). Many of the corporate ‘immune responses’ to change that I have written about elsewhere show up as attempts to crowd out such team-centered autonomy. 

The use of cultural theory as a way of understanding power dynamics in a given situation is a useful way of looking at how the dynamics of a move towards self managing teams represents a rebalancing of the power within the system. We have noted earlier that cultural theory suggests – at its simplest – that we behave and act as a result of the interactions between individual incentives, social norms and organisational authority. 

For self-organising teams to be effective, we can apply this same lens to the challenges they will face: what needs to be in place to liberate individual creativity and action, group norms and purpose, institutional support and ambition and system-wide incentives and learning. This is the skeleton of the framework I propose. I have distilled the insights and learnings from the range of sources referenced in this blog series into this framework. Presented below, it offers a summary of core  for the implementation and operation of self-managing teams. 

This framework can be used both as a prompt for the things to consider in the implementation of self-managing teams but also as a means of checking-in periodically and ensuring that the conditions for their success remain in place and are attended to. If any of these critics components are missing or not adequately considered the likelihood of the team(s) operating successfully will be reduced. 

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