Every organization has its unique way of managing the processes occurring in different departments. Does your organization have leaders or followers? This can be decided by looking at the ways a team works. Self-managed teams are being highly praised for employees being self-sufficient, responsible, and yielding better results. Although a self-managed team can conduct and perform all the tasks and decisions by themselves, they need a leader, in this case, a manager, to direct the team. The manager’s job, also the team leader, is to ensure the smaller goals are connected to the larger goals. That is, the team’s objectives are in sync with that of the organization’s goals. But that is not it. Before understanding the manager’s role in a self-managed team, let’s understand what makes the team self-managed.
What is a self-managed team?
A team that can carry out the tasks and responsibilities, set deadlines, plan and schedule tasks and meetings, handle conflicts and issues, and manage absences and leaves all on its own. The members of the team are collaborative and accountable of themselves and to each other. The team is self-organized and self-directed. Members of this team are chosen from various backgrounds and skills, so they do not need any external assistance. The team has well-defined responsibilities for each member of the team, the team monitors and manages one’s performance and the others. They mutually agree upon the responsibilities and make important decisions. All the technical and management-related tasks are rotated among the team members to have no hierarchy or discrimination. Research done by several organizations corroborates that self-managed teams aid in increasing employee productivity, increase quality work by employees, and eventually maximize customer satisfaction.
So why would such a team need a manager or a leader to do all the tasks by itself?
Role of the Manager
A manager is like a middleman between the team and the organization. The primary task is to ensure that the team goals and outcomes are aligned with that of the organization and the company. In such teams, the manager plays the role of an external leader. You, as a manager, are responsible and will be held accountable for the team’s performance and outcomes. Hence, it is essential to understand the specific roles of such a leader to lead the team as an external member but stay connected while also not indulging in the nitty-gritty of the project.
A manager should:
- Sync the team’s objectives and the goals of the organization. This team, which is self-directed, is part of a larger organization. Several such teams execute tasks to drive success for the organization. Hence, it is vital for a team to understand the objectives that its organization is trying to achieve through this project or task. Misalignment in the goals will not yield results that the organization wanted to achieve. It is highly important to make the team feel that they are a part of the organization, not an isolated body. If at all, misinterpreted by the team members, the team won’t be able to yield results that are aligned with the organization’s mission and goals.
- Communicate regularly. Communicating with the team involves doing periodic check-ins to understand where the team is, what the team requires, and to know how you, as a manager, can help the team better. Not only that but the little factors like change in the process of other departments or a change of an organizational policy must also be communicated so that the team can modify its tasks or processes. Lack of such communication can impact the decision-making and the results of the team. You would want to avoid that.
- Build trust among the team. A team can successfully work only if one can fully rely on others. One of the essentials of collaboration is trust. You can build trust by allowing the team members to learn more about each other and from each other. Building a safe space to foster relationships will allow the team to work synchronously. One should also ensure that you are not detaching yourself from the team just because of trust issues. Make yourself approachable and trustworthy by simply being open and honest about the little things.
- Give direction. A successful external leader does not give the team a ready-made map but empowers the team to build the roadmap to accomplish the goals. One does not have to come up with a plan that they think will work for the team, but should allow the team to discuss, disagree, negotiate and come to a consensus on the approach and the decision-making process. Your role is to be a bystander and offer comments and guidance when the team is stagnant or is readily agreeing to all the decisions. By this, it means to advise the team and offer new perspectives when the team is not being innovative.
- Build accountability. In some cases, the teams, if not monitored, can find it difficult to stay on task or to proceed ahead. Guide the team in such circumstances by encouraging them to think about the next steps. Along with that, building a sense of accountability where members can keep track of individual progress and tasks and be able to responsibly adhere to deadlines can help them achieve greater results. Encourage the team to regularly support each other and respectfully hold each other accountable.
- Set clear expectations and boundaries. A self-managed team, as said earlier, carries out all the processes on its own. But in some instances, an external permit is required. A clear mandate should be laid out or provided so that the team clearly understands the instances where they have to approach the external members. In such a scenario, it is required to specify who to approach and the time limit for the decision-making by the external member. All of these just give the team a clear understanding of their do’s and don’ts.
- Building healthy work ethics. Encouraging the team members to set some ground rules can aid the working and contribution of each member. As a leader, encourage team members to understand each other’s contribution to the team and why they were chosen to be a part of the team. If members know the professional skills of each other, they can find it relatively easier to delegate tasks that one can carry out efficiently than the other. Build a sense of community by discussing the mistakes as a team (without revealing the name of the team member). Such feedback sessions will allow the team to learn, grow, and succeed as a community. Additionally, inspire the team to support each other and fill in for each other if the situation calls for it. This will only happen when a sense of community has been built among the team members to appreciate the small successes as a team and allow the members to celebrate, while not neglecting the individual effort and contribution.
- Step in when absolutely necessary. In any team, conflicts and disagreements are bound to arise. Let the team deal with such instances. They may probably discuss and resolve the conflict and move on. Or they won’t be able to move forward without having any grudges. Or worse, they won’t be able to resolve it at all. Step in when the situation replicates the second or the third scenario. Again what you can do is just lead the communication and guide people to better understand all the perspectives. Make the members feel that they are a part of this community and that their presence and opinion matter.
- Outline the outcomes. If failed to communicate the exact objectives and goals of the project, the team can go astray. As a manager, ensure that the team knows what exactly needs to be the end result. Brief the outcome and demonstrate how they are aligned with the goals of the organization.
- Take and give feedback. The best way to learn is to reflect on your past actions. Taking feedback aids your understanding of how people view you. You may not intend to communicate or present something impolitely or negatively, but some change in your body language or your behavior might have given out the wrong perspective. Feedback will help you understand and learn the facts about yourself that you cannot see. Similarly, giving feedback does the same for the team members. As people who want to thrive and climb the success ladder, feedback, communicate effectively, can allow the team members to be better professionals. Ultimately, the goal is to learn, grow and become better.
A self-managed team is self-directed, but they do not need to be autonomous. Autonomy can be motivating, but it can also steal the sense of community that the organization builds. The manager of such a team ensures that the team is not functioning in isolation, is aligned with the organization’s mission and goals, and yields successful results for the organization.