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How to Foster a Self-Managed Team

Creating self-managed teams comes with some risks, but it also offers multiple benefits for your organization. Learn how to establish, manage, and foster them at your company.

March 29th 2022

by Sheekha Singh

in Teamwork

As remote work has become the norm for a growing number of companies, the popularity of self-managed teams has grown as well. Self-management has proven to be a successful technique for running teams.

Managers can feel overwhelmed in trying to increase engagement and productivity in their teams, and having self-managed teams is an effective method of achieving both. The technique isn’t a good fit for all companies, but for the right business, it can be a force multiplier.

In this article, you will learn about self-managed teams and how to foster one in your workplace.

What Are Self-Managed Teams?

Self-managed teams are small groups of employees who deliver a specific service or create a product without the supervision of a manager. Such teams typically have no defined hierarchy, instead working together to achieve a common goal.

Once a project begins, the members of a self-managed team assign tasks among themselves, collaborate on the work, manage daily activities, and assume complete ownership of the team and the result.

Why Build a Self-Managed Team?

Self-managed teams are designed to have more authority over their operations. This independence can lead to challenges for the leadership team, but it can also present opportunities that might not be possible with traditional teams. The key is to know whether the pros would outweigh the cons for your organization.

Pros of self-managed teams

  • Increased productivity and flexibility
  • Less need for supervision
  • Lower maintenance costs from centralizing management tasks
  • A more motivated team
  • Increased problem-solving ability

Cons of self-managed teams

  • Clashing work styles
  • Workflow delays as transition begins
  • Lack of oversight causing decreased focus
  • Increased need for training

How to Foster Self-Managed Teams

Self-managed teams thrive in larger companies like Google, Facebook, or Zappos, which can give employees the authority to collectively lead a project. This requires an organizational structure that encourages autonomy. However, although self-managed teams are independent, they do occasionally require leaders to guide them or advocate on their behalf.

If your company would be a good fit for this working style, you can use the following steps to create and foster a self-managed team.

Understand What’s Required

First determine whether your team is ready for this transformation and if it is, decide how exactly this self-managed team will operate. Look for these traits in your team members to decide whether a self-managed operation is appropriate for them.

  • Strong communication: A self-managed team needs to show a high degree of collaboration and strong communication skills. Your team members should reach out to one another with questions or problems or to praise one another for good work.

  • Trust: The success of a self-managed team depends on trust among team members. They should be willing to help one another and hold each one accountable for their performance throughout the course of the project. This will ensure that they work together to resolve issues.

  • Independence: Because there is no hierarchy in a self-managed team, each team member has the opportunity to prove their worth. Self-driven teams assign and perform tasks on their own, without waiting for permission or orders from a manager. They also take responsibility for the quality of their work.

Get Feedback from Team Members

Once you’ve determined which team members would be the best choice for a self-managed team, approach them and present the idea. Try to get a good sense of their level of interest. Check whether they are willing to work independently and take charge of projects on their own. Most importantly, gather feedback from them so you can evaluate whether a self-managed method is the right option.

Provide Clear Goals

Your employees need a clear understanding of the goals that they’re expected to meet, as well as what tasks they need to perform to meet those goals. You can use metrics for this; for instance, one company objective might be to lead your industry in the net promoter score (NPS) metric. Employees should also understand why they are part of a self-managed team. Make sure you explain the reason for this change and what the switch will accomplish for the organization. You must provide this level of direction in order for your self-managed team to work successfully.

Develop Roles and Guidelines

Without a clear organizational structure, self-managed team members might get caught up in leadership activities instead of focusing on the project. You should provide ground rules for collective decision-making, especially if the team is new.

Make sure the entire team understands the assigned roles and responsibilities of each member. Establish guidelines for how the team should manage conflicts. Remember that no one team member should have authority over the others. That would defeat the whole purpose of having a self-managed team.

Set Boundaries

Once the team has certain guidelines in place, it is important to set boundaries within the team. Team members should be aware that no one person has special privileges. Set strong boundaries and encourage shared decision-making. This helps the team define and prioritize their outcome. With boundaries, the tendency to lose focus and zeal decreases.

Offer Training

Provide training with videos and presentations for employees on how self-managed teams work. Offer in-depth knowledge and case studies on how to perform this process so that everyone understands best practices for this working style. Even a seasoned team can learn new things, and a refresher course on the basic principles would be helpful when new employees join.


Creating a self-managed team comes with some risks, but it also offers multiple benefits for your organization. Not only can this working style reduce costs, but it can improve employee morale and retention as well as institute more efficient workflows.

Any change in organizational structure requires communication and a commitment to improvement. This means you will need to keep refining your team’s practices while also improving your own. Remember that you’re on the vanguard of a growing trend, and companies that offer remote work are likely to increasingly use self-managed teams to achieve their goals.

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