5 min read | 24 October, 2019 By Nicky Forsyth
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As keen advocates of flexible working, here at Breathe HQ we’re always looking to try new, modern ways of operating as a business.
My team of Partner Account Managers, now 6 strong (and growing), recently reached a point where they needed a slightly different way of working together. And, after lots of consideration, we decided to go down the route of trialling a self-managed team.
You might be wondering what a self-managed team is. Perhaps it’s a model you’ve never stumbled upon before – and I wouldn’t blame you.
So, in this article I’m going to cover what a self-managed team means, why we decided to test it, how we implemented it and – most importantly – what we've learned so far.
A self-managed team is one where, instead of having a line manager, the management tasks and responsibilities are shared out amongst team members. Often, employees’ strong points and specialist skills are harnessed, and tasks are divided accordingly. Self-managed teams plan and organise day-to-day tasks and activities among themselves with minimal or no supervision.
The idea first came about when we realised our team of account managers was growing rapidly, but the team were still operating at exactly the same level. It had reached the point where a line manager was needed, but I didn’t want to risk promoting one of the team over the others and cause disappointment, demotivation and a slump in engagement. So, we explored other options and, when I discovered self-managed teams, I decided to look into the idea further.
To find out exactly what a self-managed team involved, I got cracking with some initial research. My findings included a super-informative TED talk by Helen Sanderson, some related articles as well as books on Employee Operating Systems (EOS). So far, so good.
I then reached out to well-known HR professional, Perry Timms, who has a wealth of experience in introducing autonomous team-working in organisations.
Finally, I worked with our Head of People, Suzie, to collate a long list of tasks I would typically delegate to a line manager. This included:
Once I was happy with my research, it was time to open it up to the team.
I took the team off-site and we spent the day with Perry Timms. During the morning, I introduced the idea of having a self-managed team and used the opportunity to inspire the team, showed them how it would work and answered any of their questions. We then spent some time putting together a mission statement for the team.
We then spent the afternoon going through the list of tasks Suzie and I had put together. We harnessed key strengths and specialisms within the team, assigning people to the following tasks accordingly:
I know what you’re thinking. How on earth are we handling appraisals?
Well, I started off by asking the team to do a quick, ‘360 degree’ appraisal of each other to contribute to their overall appraisal with me.
They did a fantastic job of answering the questions, despite it being challenging for some to give constructive criticism to their team-mates.
I was pleased with how it went, and next time I may even consider bringing them closer to doing each other’s appraisals.
After 6 weeks of running as a self-managed team, we took another day out with Perry to review how things were going. We reviewed what was going well and what we could work on. We took some time to practice some techniques to help us run meetings seamlessly and productively.
I’ll be honest – I thought it would be like jumping off a cliff. But it couldn’t have been more different. Making the transition into a self-managed team has been revolutionary and it felt so natural.
But, like anything, it's had its cons as well as it’s pros. Here are the biggest benefits, as well as some draw-backs and extra considerations that we've taken on board along the way.
Overall, despite it being a huge leap of faith, moving into a self-managed team has been a transformative step in our team growth. It’s really engaged the team and given them new, positive challenges to tackle in their day-to-day roles.
We’ll continue to review our progress and identify room for improvement while our self-managed team is in its trial phase. Watch this space for further updates.
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