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Self directed teams

The concept of self directed teams has been around for several decades in the modern corporate world. And much longer if you consider all of human society. Often times in today’s command and control world we forget that those who are doing the work are the best to determine how it should get done. I recently read this article which reminded me that we should be applying the self directed team concept to our own requirements projects.

So what is a self directed team? Simply put it is a management concept that rather than instructing from on high what tasks will be performed and putting the responsibility on individuals for those tasks by a manager, instead defines objectives that the whole team is responsible for.

In the command and control world, we defined a single person who was responsible for client referenceability, document quality, growing the business and ultimate success of the client’s project. The rest of the team was responsible for implementing tasks given to them by the lead. The most common issue was that the lead simply didn’t have the time to accomplish all of the goals. The lead could have delegated various responsibilities to his subordinates on the team, but they didn’t feel the same level of accountability as the lead because they had different goals – specific project tasks. If the lead didn’t actively create an air of discussion, the team members simply accepted the leads’ edicts because the lead was the lead and no one wanted to rock the boat. We thought we liked this model because we had a single person to hold accountable.

In the self-directed team model, the whole team would be tasked with the objectives – client referenceability, project success, document quality, end user satisfaction etc. The team is then compensated based on achievement of those goals. If one member is dragging down the team with poor performance, the team as a whole can “fire” that person from the team. The team also may select a leader to help arbitrate decisions and facilitate team discussion. There are a couple of key points. The leader is chosen by the team, the natural leaders rise to the top. Because the leader is chosen by the team, the team is empowered to give more honest feedback as to the performance of the leader and the direction of the team.

We haven’t yet implemented this but we are moving towards this model. All the literature warns that like any change initiative you cannot just tell a team that they are now self-directed and walk away. The team needs to figure out how to use their new found freedom to avoid collapsing in on itself as they reassemble.

I will keep you updated as to our progress.

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