Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Self-Directing Teams Place Responsibility Where Work is Performed

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The knowledge revolution has rendered many conventional management methods obsolete. Unprecedented and rapid advancements in information technology, telecommunications and artificial intelligence are transforming both the content and context of work.

Those on the leading edge of these changes have created virtual organizations that have obliterated what has been considered the raw materials of the traditional bureaucracy—the office and files. These traditional elements have been replaced by intranets, electronic databases and groupware as well as web and teleconferencing.

Organizations are increasingly devoting their resources to apprehend, think, learn and innovate—the building blocks of knowledge-based work.

The changes organizations are experiencing are causing them to employ more individuals who use and apply their thinking skills rather than simply follow directions.

Under conditions of uncertainty, bureaucratic organizations do not possess the requisite learning and information processing capacity to cope with the accelerating rate of both technological and social change.

It is important for leaders to understand that they are working within a dynamic and changing environment. As such, their individual actions are not conducted in a void, but in this environment. Likewise, teams are structured and developed in the same atmosphere, where they must relate and work together to accomplish organizational goals.

Many organizations have experimented with the use of teams in the development of various management fads, such as re-engineering and TQM, with mixed or poor results. As teams are structured, leaders must explore the self-directing team structure as one that is capable of producing more desirable and satisfactory results.

The key feature of self-directing teams is the underlying structure that places the responsibility for control and coordination where the work is actually performed. These teams are also held responsible for managing their work process and are held accountable for the results.

Once considered a radical shift in management thinking, many organizations have discovered that self-directed teams are dynamic in nature, and the dynamism of these teams closely lines up with the changes in the business. This shift gives organizations the ability to create continuous self-renewing learning functions that are manifested in the following team structural features:

  • Employees have the knowledge, information and skills to make all of the decisions that concern them.
  • The authority and responsibility for control and coordination are located as closely as possible to the individuals actually involved in the work process and those who deal with customers.
  • Authority is not based upon hierarchical position or status, but upon competence and expertise.
  • Management and leadership are shared functions widely distributed across levels and departments.
  • Access to information and feedback is both transparent and instantaneous.
  • All organizational support systems are congruent and synergistic with the requirements of a self-directed work structure.
  • The overall role of management is redesigned to focus on the creation of value for key organizational stakeholders including shareholders, customers and employees.

It should be obvious that self-directing teams are structured to more efficiently organize work. They display the properties of complex adaptive systems. The elements of such a system are capable of a high degree of cooperative behavior, where the group is capable of producing more complex results than any single individual could.

Additionally, self-directing teams have a superior competitive advantage because they create a redundancy by extending the skills and functions of individual members and by relocating the responsibility for the control and coordination of work to the specific level that work is performed at. Self-directing teams absorb the function of management since they have the direct responsibility for achieving and measuring results.

Overall, the structure of self-directed teams provides organizations with the flexibility to quickly adapt to meet the challenges facing them, all the while possessing a strong sense of confidence in their success.

Related:

The Use of Teams Requires Self-Discipline

Five Critical Factors of Team Success

Seven Negative Roles & Behaviors Which Undermine Team Performance

Excerpt: Developing a Team Approach: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series(Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 17.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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2 Responses

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  1. I spent many years teaching about self-directed teams, and where the employees were well trained, qualified and accountable, it was fabulous. Costs were held, and many innovations were developed. However, if top management is not truly supportive and tries to interfere with directions and control, it seldom works.

    Gayle Carson

    February 12, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    • I’ve had the same experience. Its sad more companies don’t take advantage of their power, but I think they frighten some managers who wish to protect their turf.

      Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

      February 12, 2013 at 2:42 pm


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