Self-directed work teams allow employee leadership to shine

Leadership skills can be strengthened by allowing employees to participate in self-directed work teams.

Many people refer to self-directed work teams, but few are knowledgeable about the level of effectiveness these teams can have on the development of employees. In his article in the “FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin,” Stephen Ramirez describes how these teams can be effective in law enforcement. He states that a self-directed work team consists of a group of highly trained individuals with the responsibility and authority for completing a well-defined project. Self-directed work teams are not temporary. They represent a new way of doing business in which top management remains uninvolved, providing that the team is achieving established goals. This autonomy takes full advantage of all team members ’ talents, skills, abilities, ideas, and experiences. Executives of team based organizations retain their authority over strategies, but the teams assume control over delivery methods.

In today’s dynamic environment, self-directed teams possess many advantages. With the freedom to make decisions and act on them, self-directed work teams can identify opportunities, find solutions and implement actions quickly, thus giving their organizations greater flexibility.

The University of Minnesota Extension highlights success factors for self-directed work teams:

  1. Top-level commitment
    There is a champion at or near the top of the organization who is totally committed to self-directed teams and will protect, support and fight for the success of the effort.
  2. Leadership-employee trust
    Leaders trust that, over time, employees will actively support the changes necessary to make this process successful. Employees trust that the organization’s/team’s leadership will allow them to take risks, express their opinions and make decisions about the work of their self-directed team.
  3. Willingness to take risks
    Leadership is willing to risk a difficult and potentially costly change that will radically change their organization. Employees are willing to give up aspects of their traditional individual jobs for a more demanding role as a team member.
  4. Willingness to share information
    Leadership is willing to share previously secret or closely held information about the organization including financial reports.
  5. Enough time and resources
    Leadership is willing to take the time (often years) and provide the resources in the form of training, materials, equipment, technology, etc., to ensure the success of the transition to self-directed work teams.
  6. Commitment to training
    Leadership and administration is willing to provide intensive, long-term training in interpersonal, administrative and technical skills necessary for a team-based environment.
  7. Operations conducive to work teams
    The organization has operations/processes that include a wide range of employee tasks, with some complex enough that improved skills and commitment can lead to improved productivity.

Self-directed work teams represent an important part of an organization’s overall strategy for a number of reasons. First, those closest to the work know best how to perform and improve their jobs. Second, most employees want to feel “ownership” in their jobs, that they are contributing to the organization in a meaningful way. Finally, the autonomy teams enjoy provides opportunities for empowerment that individual employees usually do not have.

Michigan State University Extension offers leadership programs for both new and experienced youth and adult leaders who would like to develop or improve their leadership skills. To learn more about these programs, contact an expert in your area.

Related Events

Related Articles

Related Resources