A team is unlikely to meet its delivery commitments if its members are constantly relying on the project manager, their people managers or stakeholders to progress. If the project manager calls all the shots, it’s rare that team members will begin to rely on one another and unhealthy tension is likely to emerge as each team member vies for more attention from the dominant stakeholder. While it is more common to see it referenced in the context of agile projects, the idea of a self-managing team can apply equally well to traditionally run projects.
A lot has been written about the ways in which a leader can facilitate team development, but what are some of the key signs of self-managing, high performance teams?
Accountability from within: On self-managing teams, rarely does someone from the outside have to remind a team member of their commitments. Each team member has a high level of self-discipline but is also keen on ensuring the team’s credibility remains untarnished and they will go out of their way to help or coach fellow team members who are at risk of missing the mark. They will also not hesitate to ostracize or eject a team member who repeatedly demonstrates an inability to help the team progress.
Embedded continuous improvement: The team owns its work practices and continually assesses the effectiveness and efficiency of these practices. When defects occur, the team doesn’t start the “Blame Game” but seeks to identify and implement methods of prevention.
Unconscious yet effective delegation: When a new work item emerges, who will need to work on it rarely needs to be negotiated. Each team member knows and respects the unique abilities of his or her peers and the assignment of activities begins to resemble the ball passing abilities of a high performing, highly cohesive sports team.
Organic onboarding: When a new team member joins, the team as a whole takes the effort to learn about the new team member’s competencies and experience. In turn, they will also ensure that the newcomer learns the same about the rest of the team and is taught the written and unwritten rules of behavior which the team follows. With such teams, it is also rare that a decision is made to bring on a new team member without the team’s involvement in the recruiting process.
A culture of recognition: Self-managing teams rarely crave or actively seek individual recognition from without. They share equally in the success of the team as a whole, but recognize each other on a daily basis in small ways with simple rituals such as picking up a coffee for a team member who is too busy to go and get one. They also begin to develop a higher level of emotional intelligence with each other which helps them understand when a team member is down and in need of some encouragement.
Sounds like nirvana, doesn’t it?
Two reasons we so rarely see teams demonstrate all of these signs is the authoritative approach used by many project managers, sponsor or people managers and the inability or reluctance for many organizations to form teams which persist from project-to-project.
As with most organizational performance challenges, we have seen the enemy, and he is us.