Self-Directed Teams

Table of Content

Self-directed teams are teams that have the ability to control their actions when it comes to specific tasks they are assigned to. This includes making decisions regarding work assignments, working methods, and scheduling activities. This concept has been defined by Cohen, Ledford, and Spreitzer in 1996, as well as Goodman, Devadas, and Hughson in 1988. In manufacturing settings, a self-directed team may be held accountable for an entire product or a clearly specified portion of the production process.

Self-directed teams have several distinguishing characteristics. These teams are empowered to share management and leadership functions, plan and control their own work processes, set their own goals aligned with the corporate strategy, create and manage their own schedule, and review their performance. Additionally, they may prepare budgets, coordinate with other departments, order materials from suppliers, and maintain inventories. Moreover, team leaders may be responsible for developing the team’s skills when necessary (Irani, Sharp & Kagioglou, 1997).

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In their literature review, Muthusamy, Wheeler, and Simmons (2005) discovered that self-directed teams have numerous positive impacts on performance effectiveness. These include productivity improvements, cost savings, employee satisfaction, quality of work-life indicators, and team effectiveness. Additionally, they found that self-directed teams also foster innovativeness. The authors highlighted that self-directed teams are characterized by autonomy, informality, information exchange, and participative decision-making – all of which facilitate innovation (Muthusamy et al, 2005).

Resistance is unavoidable when introducing the concept of self-directed teams to a company. These teams necessitate new work processes, attitudes, and behaviors, which disrupt traditional thinking regarding oneself, others, leadership, and the organization. Team members must hold each other accountable for achieving performance goals, requiring responsibility for their own actions as well as the actions of others. Trust becomes vital in lieu of receiving directives from superiors.

Both managers and individual contributors may have concerns and fears when it comes to implementing changes in group accountability. Traditional practices may need to be let go of (Moravec, Johannessen & Hjelmas, 1997). These worries and apprehensions can result in negative attitudes, represented by a character with a frowning expression and folded arms, along with comments questioning the purpose and personal benefit of the changes. Some may also argue that their existing work groups are already operating as self-managed teams, questioning the need for any alterations.

The objective is to overcome resistance and negativity, rejuvenate the workforce, and accelerate the shift from working groups to authentic self-managed teams. Moravec, Johannessen, and Hjelmas (1997) discussed how BP Norge, the Norwegian division of British Petroleum, successfully implemented self-directed teams in three consecutive phases:

  1. DISCOVERY AND AGITATION: Focusing; changing old thought patterns; recognizing the differences between teamwork, groups and self-directed teams; linking the concept of self-directed teams o the company’s vision and business strategy; breaking the blockage of resistance; and gaining momentum.
  2. PROLIFERATION AND DISSEMINATION: Exploring; establishing new ways of working; identifying teams and selecting team leaders; determining what is expected of sponsors to support the next steps; establishing specific team work products and measurable performance goals; transferring responsibility from the hierarchy to the self- Self-Directed Teams 4 irected teams; deepening commitment; and providing just-in-time training to develop specific competencies and mental models.
  3. INTEGRATION AND INSTITUTIONALIZATION: Having each group hold itself accountable as a team and recognize that “this is the way we do things around here now”; aligning work processes, decision making, information, measurement, performance management and organization structure with the self-directed teams and business strategy; developing and rotating team leadership; removing boundaries; and practicing new competencies at higher levels of proficiency.

To enhance the effectiveness of self-directed teams, it is crucial to provide team members with all pertinent organizational information. This empowers teams to make and execute critical decisions independently, without relying on external or upper-level management. Moreover, organizations should bolster the team’s decision-making capabilities by broadening their resources and enhancing their technical and interpersonal skills. Furthermore, the design and composition of teams also significantly impact their overall effectiveness.

The design of self-directed teams should promote and improve communication and learning within the team. Factors such as task interdependence, team member diversity, team size, and organizational slack in resources and time can enhance self-leadership, leading to greater communication and cognitive divergence. This, in turn, fosters innovative behaviors within the team (Collins & Amabile, 1999; Cady & Valentine, 1999; Taggar, 2002).

However, it is important for organizations to ensure that self-leadership and the resulting cognitive freedom do not diminish the cohesion and consensus among group members, which is crucial for the successful implementation of decisions. Self-Directed Teams 5 The level of quality required to stay competitive in today’s marketplace is being pursued through the establishment of empowered team-based organizations. This shift is occurring as more individuals recognize that empowered teams offer a means to accomplish organizational objectives and meet the evolving demands of a changing workforce.

Many organizations are starting to adopt flexible, self-directed, multi-skilled work teams in order to become more efficient and survive. Implementing self-directed teams not only improves business performance but also enhances employee performance.


  1. Cady, S. H. , & Valentine, J. (1999). Team innovation and perceptions of consideration: What difference does diversity make? Small Group Research, 30(6), 730-750.
  2. Cohen, S. G. , Ledford, G. E. , & Spreitzer, G. M. (1996). A predictive model of self-managing work team effectiveness. Human Relations, 49(5), 643-676.
  3. Collins, M. A. & Amabile, T. M. (1999). Motivation and creativity. In RJ. Sternber (Ed. ), Handbook of Creativity (pp. 297-312). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Goodman, P. S. , Devadas, R. , & Hughson, T. L. (1988). Groups and productivity: Analyzing the effectiveness of self-managing teams. In J. P. Campbell & R. J. Campbell (Eds. ), Productivity in organization (pp. 295-325).
  5. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Irani, Z. , Sharp, J. M. , & Kagioglou, M. (1997). Communicating Through Self-Directed Work Teams (SDWTs) Within an SME Learning Organization. Journal of Workplace Learning, 9(6), 199.
  6. Moravec, M. , Johannessen, O. J. , & Hjelmas, T. A. (1997). Thumbs Up for Self-Managed Teams. Management Review, 86(7), 42-48.
  7. Muthusamy, S. K. , Wheeler, J. V. , & Simmons, B. L. (2005). Self-Managing Work Teams: Enhancing Organizational Innovativeness. Organization Development Journal, 23(3), 5366.
  8. Taggar, S. (2002). Individual creativity and group ability to utilize individual creative resources: A multilevel model. Academy of Management Journal, 45(2), 315-331.

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