by Phil Manington

Self-directed teams

As an empowerment culture develops and starts to release the potential of employees, they become increasingly keen to develop their own skills and also to find ways to make use of those skills to the company’s benefit. Those in charge move from being supervisors and managers to spending more time being coaches and facilitators.

It is likely to take between two and five years to create a stable empowerment culture. Once established, however, it opens up the possibility of further development – of handing over the responsibility for managing to the teams themselves.

Step 1

The first step is to create self-managed teams, who work together and are given goals and objectives by senior management, but are responsible for deciding how they go about achieving those goals. Typical management activities that they take on are work scheduling, performance management and training.

Step 2

Self-managed teams might be followed by the creation of self-directed teams, who additionally take on responsibility for setting their own goals. Typical activities include recruitment, pay levels and discipline. Self-managed teams will often be set up as profit centres.

The benefits

More and more companies are reporting that they involve their employees in daily management activities and that they have set up at least some self-managed or self-directed teams. These include AT&T, Federal Express, 3M and Dutton Engineering and all believe that they have achieved significant productivity improvements as a result. Other benefits claimed are

  • Higher quality products and services
  • Greater flexibility
  • Faster response to change
  • Increased employee commitment
  • The ability to attract and retain the best people.

However, empowerment is not an initiative to be taken lightly. It requires a major shift in thinking for both management and staff. It is worth studying the work done by Ricardo Semler at Semco in Brazil. He provides a great role model, showing firstly how to empower your workforce and then how to develop further towards self-directed teams.

Also worth considering is the work carried out at Dutton Engineering in the UK. Dutton is a member of the British Quality Foundation and uses the EFQM model to help drive its continuous improvement programme (see Quality). The company started with training in total quality in 1989 and has since changed its traditional hierarchical structure to a flatter self-managed team approach.

See Want to know more? for further information about self-managed and self-directed teams.