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.
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.
True 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?
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.
Helping others to do better things