Management vs. Leadership: Why self-managing works for our teams

By Petronela State

December 20, 2018

A self-managed team can be  defined as a group of people who take responsibility and are accountable for delivering a service or developing a product within an organization. Unlike traditional organizational structures – which count on assigning tasks to employees based on skills and experience level – a self-managed team is capable of undertaking supporting tasks like workflow scheduling and planning.

One of the core benefits of a self-managed team is that members take ownership of their performed tasks, whether that task is to deliver a service or build a product. Adrian Marinica, software developer at Maxcode, shares some more insights on management vs. leadership, and how self-managing works best for the teams at Maxcode.

How do things work inside a self-managed team?

“Self-managed teams are not managed from the outside; they are led from the inside. At the most, they are merely observed and evaluated from the outside.”

Skills, experience and return of investment are key factors in deciding who does what, whether we’re talking about traditional or self-managed teams. The difference is that with the latter type, commitments are owned. Even though self-managed teams are more independent and autonomous in terms of carrying out and managing their work, they still need to be guided by the leaders within their organization.

Putting together an autonomous team demands an evaluation on all team members. Are they self-driven? Can they self-manage? In theory, everything sounds simple because there seems to be no hierarchy, no micromanagement. But in practice, getting stuff done all on your own is easier said than done. Self-management is all about taking responsibility for knowing what tasks you need to accomplish, and why.

At Maxcode, there’s always a product or project manager by your side to help guide you. However, they’re not looking over your shoulder. Teams and team members are the owners of their own schedule, and their day. For newbies in self-managed teams, it can be rather overwhelming to deal with the situation. Believe it or not, it can be intimidating to NOT have someone constantly monitor what you do on a daily basis.

“Can my team members understand what I’m doing?”, “How do I prove to my boss I’m doing my job well?”, “How do I demonstrate my value to the organization?” These are all valid questions team members might be asking themselves. The good news is self-managed teams work together, with each other and for each other. One team member’s success is the success of everyone.

What are the benefits of shifting towards self-managed teams?

There’s no magic in the “self-managed” concept, but in the principle lying at its core – ownership that stems from the ability to make sensible decisions. When someone is encouraged to be creative, test and put ideas to work – with the risk of failing – they take full ownership of their decisions in ways they never believed before.

In terms of benefits for making the shift to self-managed teams within your organization, we have:

  • Increased efficiency and productivity within your company because team members feel more confident, and are not afraid to take initiative.
  • Reduced costs due to increased accountability. When teams work in an accountable, self-managed way, management overhead is constantly reduced.
  • Greater focus on overall business outcomes. Rather than be governed by objectives at a project level, self-managed teams are able to concentrate on the end result. They care about getting the project done, just as much as they keep an eye on the big picture.

Are there any risks associated with shifting towards self-managed teams?

People are different and not everyone is fit to work in a self-managed team. Some prefer a more structured approach where a direct manager has a greater influence over the work. Traditionally organized teams usually don’t pose an issue if one member likes to be more independent. The team can still do their job and accomplish their tasks. On the other hand, self-managed teams have a huge issue when one member is not capable of making decisions or organizing themselves.

This happens especially when the team is recently formed because they might have a hard time working with that person. Self-managed teams rely on well-formed cohesion between team members, and lack of cohesion leads to complete team failure. However, even great cohesion sometimes leads to a sense of “groupthink”, a situation where most team members tend to relax in the comfort of agreement and either don’t see issues or are reluctant to raise them.

Fostering the development of a successful self-managed team 

Providing feedback should be a top priority in a working environment fostering the development of a self-managed team. Activities encouraging the process should be organized regularly so that feedback can become a constructive loop: evaluate > give feedback > ask for feedback > evaluate.

Bottom line is, you need the right company culture to sustain a self-managed team. Allowing team members to become decision makers should have priority. A results-driven culture is equally important. What does that mean? In a software development company it could mean to release faster, allowing teams to constantly see the results of their work.

How does one manage without a manager? How independent is a self-managed team? Teams usually work inside an organization, meaning they have to comply with its rules and structures. Mistakes are rarely a tragedy, but they’re always a learning experience. Leave some room for mistakes, especially in low-risk situations.

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