Running head: SELF-DIRECTED TEAMS
Human Resources Development: Theory & Practice
Self-Directed Teams 2
Self-directed teams can be defined as teams that are able to regulate their behavior on relatively whole tasks for which they have been established, including making decisions about work assignments, work methods, and scheduling activities (Cohen, Ledford, & Spreitzer, 1996; Goodman, Devadas, & Hughson, 1988). For example, in manufacturing environments, a selfdirected team might be responsible for a whole product, or a clearly defined segment of the production process. Among the distinguishing characteristics of self-directed teams are the following: they are empowered to share various management and leadership functions; they plan, control and improve their own work processes; they set their own goals (aligned to the corporate strategy); the team creates/manages their own schedule and reviews their performance; they may prepare their own budgets and co-ordinate their work with other departments; they may order materials from suppliers, keep inventories; and team leaders may be responsible for developing skills within the team, when they are needed (Irani, Sharp & Kagioglou, 1997).
In their literature review, Muthusamy, Wheeler, and Simmons (2005) found that selfdirected teams contribute to various dimensions of performance effectiveness, such as; productivity improvements, cost savings, employee satisfaction, quality of work-life indicators, and team effectiveness. They also added innovativeness to this list. Self-directed teams are known to have autonomy, high degree of informality, intense information exchange, and participative decision-making. All of these are characteristics that facilitate innovation (Muthusamy et al, 2005).
When trying to introduce the concept of self-directed teams in a company, some resistance is inevitable. Self-managed teams require new work processes, attitudes and behaviors. They cause upheavals in patterns of thinking about oneself, others, leadership and the
Self-Directed Teams 3
organization. Members have to hold themselves mutually responsible for a set of performance goals, which means they take responsibility not only for their own behavior, but for that of others as well. They have to rely on trust instead of orders from on high. Managers may fear loss of control, while individual contributors may object to being held accountable for group deliverables. Long-held traditions may have to be abandoned (Moravec, Johannessen & Hjelmas, 1997). These concerns and fear will translate in negative attitudes, which might be symbolized by a frowning character with arms folded across his chest, and comments like “What's the point in going into this? And, what's in it for me?" Others may be convinced that their current working groups are self-managed teams already, so why change anything? The goal is to work through the barriers of resistance and negativity, re-energize the workforce and speed the transition from working groups to true self-managed teams.
Moravec, Johannessen, and Hjelmas (1997) explained how BP Norge, the Norwegian arm of British Petroleum, was able to introduced self-directed teams in three overlapping phases: (1) DISCOVERY AND AGITATION: Focusing; changing old thought patterns; recognizing the differences between teamwork, groups and self-directed teams; linking the concept of self-directed teams to the company’s vision and business strategy; breaking the blockage of resistance; and gaining momentum. (2) PROLIFERATION AND DISSEMINATION: Exploring; establishing new ways of working; identifying teams and selecting team leaders; determining what is expected of sponsors to support the next steps; establishing specific team work products and measurable performance goals; transferring responsibility from the hierarchy to the self-
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