A self-managing team is a group of employees working together who are accountable for all or most aspects of their task. Whether they are providing a product or a service, a self-managing team performs their tasks in an interrelated way. A self-managing team retains independence and greater ownership of their work. Such a team also makes the majority of key decisions about their work, ensuring that decisions are made by those affected by and invested in them (Figure 1).
Advantages and Disadvantages
Organizations in various fields use self-managing teams to boost productivity and manage expenses more effectively. Members of self-managing teams carry out all supportive tasks themselves, such as working out scheduling issues and providing coverage for necessary work shifts. Typically, they share both managerial and technical tasks evenly over time. Team members also share responsibility for their task as a whole, so work ethic is high in well-functioning teams.
There are also possible drawbacks to self-managing teams. Too much closeness on such a team can result in less innovation and too much conformity. It may also feel difficult for team members to be critical of each other which can cause a failure to improve. Furthermore, self-management can be demanding and some teams cannot meet this challenge for interpersonal reasons, lack of organizational support, or both.
Comparison to Cross-Functional Teams
Compared with the cross-functional team, the self-managing team requires little or no management and confers its leadership to each member. Here team members are responsible for staying on task and being effective, whereas in a cross-functional team, a manager will more likely play these roles. Self-managing teams are also less likely to experience conflict than are cross-functional teams. This is largely because there is more shared perspective and less in-fighting between people of differing experience areas. Of course conflict is always present to some extent, but shared perspective minimizes it. Both cross-functional and self-managing teams are generally empowered to make important decisions and to take responsibility for their tasks. Careful attention to training and expertise is also important for both types of teams.
Ideally, members of a self-managing team will have a breadth of skills and training to assist them in both the skilled tasks of the team and the managerial duties they must take on as team members. The best self-managing teams will also house team members who share common values, at least with regard to their work. These teams function best when they are focused and do not have an excess of members compared with the duties they must perform.
At times, companies will create temporary self-managing teams for discrete, time-sensitive tasks. These temporary versions of the self-managing team share many qualities with the more long-term team, but they experience greater pressure and more rigid standards for success.
Self-managing teams are different from self-directed teams. Self-managing teams work toward goals that are set for them by outside leadership, whereas self-directed teams work toward a common goal that they define.