Lessons from Self-Managed Teams

Steve LudwigRetaining PeopleLeave a Comment

an apple on a pile of books

If one thing the COVID pandemic taught the knowledge worker, they didn’t need to be in their office to do their job—no matter what their bosses said.

Some employers and employees are now engaged in a battle to see who will win the power struggle to determine if, when, and how often people will have to gather in person. Can managers used to having their minions in cube farms deal with being unable to ask people to do their TPS Reports in person?

It is far too early to know the long-term impact that these changes will have in developing and maintaining work culture, morale, productivity, profitability, promotions, and career trajectory.

Some impacts are already clear and being felt. Demand for office space is dropping, city centers are taking a huge economic hit, and public transit agencies have lost riders.

One trend that is likely to accelerate is that of self-managed teams. This is literally as it sounds, groups of people work in teams to develop and deliver a project or strategy, then set their goals, workflows, and performance measures with little to no oversight by a “boss.”

While your company might not be able to change the culture overnight, adapting some of the lessons of self-managed teams is possible, especially to keep star performers engaged and retained.

Author and columnist Joann S. Lubin shares tips on how to apply the lessons from self-managed teams.

  1. Create fluid roles focused on skills not titles. This gets away from managers defining tasks and letting employees build their own jobs based on their unique combination of skills and experience.
  2. Pretend everyone is a volunteer. This can be a dramatic shift. Many old-line managers want to say “how high” when they say “jump.” This means asking more than telling, expressing thanks often, and helping employees do work where they are engaged.
  3. Provide more flexible work options. This also goes against the traditional in by 8 a.m. out by 5 p.m. (8:00 to 17:00).  Star performers without the flexibility to work when and where they want (granted, with some boundaries) will simply go elsewhere.

At The Right Five (The Pathfinder Company is a trading name of The Right Five LLC), we know from experience that not every employee thrives in a self-managed environment. As we have noted before, we need all types of personalities and work styles for a company to succeed.

One of best predictors if a person will do well on a self-directed team is determine if they are a Pathfinder.

Pathfinders have a unique set of deep skills and mindsets to be successful in self-managed teams. These attributes include:

  • A strong ability to deal with ambiguity. Self-managed teams often have to create their own targets and figure out new ways forward. By definition, this lacks the clarity of being told what to do. The ability to not only deal with ambiguity and thrive is a key asset for a member of a self-managed team.
  • A willingness and excitement around building something new. Many self-managed teams are charged with developing new processes, procedures, products, or services, all perfect for a Pathfinder.
  • A curiosity that allows for creative solutions. This is critical for teams that are given a lot of latitude to come up with new ideas.
  • A hunger motivated by something quite different to many career climbers. We’d characterize this motivation as intrinsic rather than extrinsic. They are looking for something that is deeper and has a personal meaning for them.

For self-managed teams, it is important to know if your current employees, or people you are recruiting, are Pathfinders—so you can set them and the team up to win.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was an assessment tool focused on the mindset/deep skills of a Pathfinder, allowing you to get the right people in the right roles?

We have good news.

For the first sales hire of a B2B tech startup, we already have The Right Five, which covers both the deep and vocational skills required to be successful. You can watch a demo here.

For every other type of Pathfinder, we’ve decoupled the intangibles, the deep skills from The Right Five assessment and will now offer this as a standalone online assessment through The Pathfinder Company.

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