Self managed teams that enable delegated decision-making, also need new management behaviours to succeed.
Self managed teams need to be carefully setup so they are designed around the characteristics of the service as a system. They also need a new management style to allow them to thrive.
Since the early promises of great teamwork from Japan, like many others, I am searching for something that allows for employees to truly contribute and be create a positive work environment. Over the last few years, I have worked with teams that have been able to work in a very different way to the past. Individuals have become motivated, effective, and collaborative. People coming to work to do something they want to do, and do it well.
Good teams don’t not exist, they are visible in pockets of parts of organisations. You come across them now and again, seemingly by accident. ‘I wished they worked for me!’ is a thought that might pass through a managers mind, as they envisage their service filled with people like that.
From working with teams over the last 12 years, and with other colleagues, here is some learning that may be useful for others who are wanting to create a more participative work environment.
What is a self managed team? It is a work environment - the work system, that is designed to allow anyone in that system to work with some autonomy and with others in the workflow, and make decisions to achieve a goal.
The manager working with such a team is doing less of the administration of micromanagement and firefighting, to making sure the team can work well, and developing the rest of the employees. The managers role is also transformed in terms of their motivation and contribution; it feels like doing the job the manager should always have been doing.
What does it look like watching people in this system?
They are able to adjust procedures to suit the situation that presents itself. They talk to anyone in the organisation that they need to, without requiring permission. They freely share knowledge, and seek knowledge from others. Work cooperatively. The support others and accept work from others. They give the best service possible to the customer. They are motivated to do a good job, and you can see that they are enjoying their work.
A good place to start to set up a self-managed team
The first place to start, when working with a group from different parts of the service, is to help them to start to change their culture of how they work with themselves:
Step 1 - everyone in the new team has skills and experiences to bring to the group. However, we do not recognise any formal job roles here. This avoids the team defaulting to the original positions that would traditionally do certain tasks. It allows them to experiment with who is best positioned to do that activity. You as the lead the change with the team, need to ensure that when they keep falling back to their old ways, you remind them that they are doing this, and ask others to undertake that task.
Step 2 - creating a safe space where people are free to achieve step 1 is critical to setting up and new culture. I find that this takes time, and I have to ensure that people, when they are behaving in the old ways of heirarchy and dominance, are then asked to hear what others have to say. I find the 'talking stick' a very useful tactic with some teams.
Creating a safe space is not some touchy-feely good deed. It is simply the removal of those things that create fear in our command & control teams. It allows staff to behave from a position of authenticity. It does not mean that everyone has to have a view, or that everything is democratic. I find myself having to ensure that the team moves in a direction of a safe space quite quickly, and have one-ones with people if I find they are uncomfortable. I reassure them and the whole team what we are trying to do - this is not some hidden tactic.
A real case study
Example of the old system: A very irate and possibly aggressive member of the public come in, with no money, and the worker is faced with a myriad of rules that guide them to tell the person to go to another department. At that other department, the person has to queue for an hour, repeat the whole story again, fill in a form, and go to another place to eventually get some money.
The same situation in the new system: The person was listened to by a worker. That worker made a phone call, and then dealt with the person. They then gave them funds to take them through two days of buying food. It took ten minutes and the one worker was the only one the person talked to. No violence from the person, no rules needed to be broken, and no forms needed to be filled in. —————————--
What are the outcomes?
This creates a work environment, where front line workers are enthused to serve the customer.
Functional barriers within the organisation break down.
Participation happens between departments and people - teams form.
Many decisions are made at a low level, with more difficult decisions being escalated.
Employee motivation and work life becomes positive at an individual level for most people.
Most can contribute directly and positively to future strategic development and change.
The work flow is adjusted in such a way as to minimise the cost of doing the work to the organisation.
Who is working like this today? Very few organisations truly operate like this, Toyota in Japan being one of the most well known. Despite decades of time, and a gaggle of ‘experts’, we seem to be moving very slowly in truly realising this approach in work environments.
An self-managed team environment does not just happen, it needs to be created. Then, when its created, it needs to make happen. All things that are difficult, especially when there will be some who don’t want to participate, or who cannot work in such a system. Its the manager as a leader that must be the creator.
Re-imagining your business by putting the customer at the heart of your service
Is this phrase part of your corporate message?
Putting the customer at the heart of what we do
Is this simply replacing the previous corporate message, that replaced the one before that...
Are you ready to put messages asides and make this really work for your organisation?
I sometimes say to organisational leaders - this is like renting offices across the road, hiring staff and starting again. How would you design your service differently?
You would hire managers that know whats going on, and know how to motivate and lead delegated teams
The workflows would be designed from scratch to follow what matters for each customer.
Waste would be minimised so that staff know how to focus on value.
Staff would work together in teams, making decisions that optimise the workflow.
The technology would be designed to support your transformed workflow.
Leaders would receive real information that helps them to make smart decisions.
Transformation is exactly this - and it starts with putting the customer at the heart of what we do. And it ends when every part of the organisation is supporting that - not in words, but in actions. Service Design famously uses personas to help create a new focus. But these new personas msut be used to design the whole end to end flow, and all the elements that make up that service. It must incorporate what matters to that persona. amd that persona must then become each single customer that places a demand into our service.
A public sector example
In one organisation the manager said that her staff all listen to the customer - she was passionate about putting the customer first, she knew that as a truth.
A week later, she said
"My staff dont listen to the customer, we dont pay attention to what matters to them, I am so shocked!"
What had happened, the manager has sat listening to a customer for 20 minutes, who was crying most of the time. The manager realised that policies and procedures of the organisation were what were in the mind of her staff when they listened to customers, and these procedures were used to respond to the customers needs. The answers were not what was needed to deal with the problem in hand.
It is like starting anew, and looking at the service or operations from an outside-in perspective - its easy, but its difficult to do from where the organisation is today.
In the example above, the managers led and the staff replaced the rigid procedures with a looser framework. It allowed staff flexibility to do what was right for each customer.
The results were:
a drop in recorded cases by two thirds
freed up time to spend longer to do what was right, and fix root cause issues
It was not difficult, it just needed the right approach
Most organisations say that they listen to their customers, but is that enough? What happens when we listen... We then revert back to an internal perspective. An agile and flexile organisation delegates staff to be flexible within a framework.
Typically those internal perspectives are not about training, they are the: