S is for Building A More Self Managing Team

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Imagine you want to build a more self managing team. You may want to do this in order:

To use your strengths to take on a more strategic role in the organisation.

To, at the same time, ensure the team continues to be effective and deliver excellence.

To give people in the team the chance to grow and achieve success.

Taking these steps requires everybody in the team taking more responsibility. This calls for making clear working contracts with people.

Start by choosing somebody to act as your deputy. You can agree with them on:

The team’s picture of success.

The specific role they want to play in helping the team to achieve the picture of success.

The specific support they want from you in helping the team to achieve its picture of success.

The next step will be to agree with the team on the way forward. Let’s explore how to make this happen.

Clarify whether people want
to build a self managing team

You can begin by meeting with the team and making sure they really do want to become more self managing. People will almost certainly say they do, but it is important to underline the work involved.

The old coaching rule applies: ‘People must have the will before they learn the skill.’ It is vital to make a psychological contract with people that they really want to be more self managing.

Some may be willing to take this step, whilst others may prefer to be managed. If so, you can then make decisions about the people in the team.

You can gather people together and go through the following stages.

Explain the reasons for building
a more self managing team

You may have been asked to take a more strategic role, lead several other projects, help your own manager or whatever. The consequence is that you will spend less time with the team.

Explain the role of your deputy. You may want to say something along the following lines.

Looking to the future, I have been asked to do the following things in the organisation.

To …

To …

To …

This means that to some extent my role in the team will be changing.

My responsibilities will continue to be:

To …

To …

To …

My deputy’s responsibilities will be:

To …

To …

To …

We will, however, be asking everybody to take on more responsibility.

Later on we will be making clear contracts about the broad roles people can play in helping the team to deliver success.

Re-communicate the team’s
agreed picture of success.

Revisit the team’s goals for the next 12 months. Invite people to add suggestions to the goals and also to ask questions for information.

You will have your own approach to communicating the team’s picture of success. The example given below uses the template of focusing on the 3 Ps – the team’s profits, products and people – but you may use another template.

Whichever approach you use, however, it is good to remind people of the big picture.

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Involve people in clarifying
the chances of success

Ensure that people see the big picture. They need to understand the team’s strategy, the reasons behind it and the road map for achieving success.

You can then involve them in taking a reality check. Bearing in mind the things they can control, invite the team members to do the following things.

To rate the team’s chances of achieving success – they can do this on a scale 0 – 10. This needs to be a minimum of 7+/10.

To describe the specific things the team can do to maintain or improve the rating.

To compile their suggestions and implement those that will improve the team’s chances of success.

Here is the exercise you can invite people to complete.

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Explain that you will be meeting
each person to make clear contracts
about their contribution to the team

Explain that you and your deputy will be meeting with each person. You will then make clear contracts about the specific contribution they each want to make towards achieving the team’s goals.

At this point it may be useful to again revisit the psychological contract. Say that people will be invited to consider the extent to which they are prepared to be self managing. You will explore this with them in the meetings.

How do people respond to this kind of challenge? As you can probably guess, the responses tend to mirror the following pattern.

Some may be prepared to be self managing in their own work and also play a key role in co-ordinating the self managing team.

Some may be prepared to be self managing in their own work and proactively keep others informed about their contribution towards achieving the team’s goals.

Some may prefer to be managed and work in their own bubble.

You may therefore need to make decisions regarding whether people can make a positive contribution or may need to be replaced in the team. Before then, however, it can be useful to involve people in the next step.

Clarify people’s overall roles in
building a self managing team

You can involve the team members in exploring the roles that various people will play in the team. This reinforces the responsibilities that people will need to fulfil to ensure the team achieves success.

Start by giving an overview of what you see as the leader’s future responsibilities – your responsibilities – in helping the team to be more self managing and successful.

Give some overall pointers for guidance, but also leave space for people to contribute their ideas.

You can then give an overview of what you see as the responsibilities of the deputy, line managers and the team members.

Here is an introduction to some things you may mention regarding your own role.

The leader’s future responsibilities in helping the team
to be more self managing and successful are:

To make clear contracts with the Board about the team’s contribution towards achieving the organisation’s picture of success.

To communicate these goals to the team – because this is the scorecard we must deliver – and agree on the team’s picture of success.

To maintain a positive culture – including providing the required air cover and support – that enables the team to be self managing and achieve the picture of success.

To retain the overall responsibility for the team’s performance and do whatever is required to enable the team to deliver the picture of success.

You can invite people to do the following exercise regarding what they see as the responsibilities of various people. Ask each person to write Post-it Notes under the following headings that can be written on flip charts. (See below.)

Give people 15 minutes to write the ideas. Each person then goes up in turn and places their Post-it Notes under the relevant headings. Invite them to also explain their suggestions.

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Discuss the suggestions that emerge. You will have the final say on people’s roles, of course, but it is good to get everybody’s ideas.

You and your deputy can meet with each person to agree on their specific contribution to achieving the team’s goals. Conclude the process by making sure everybody knows people’s respective responsibilities in helping the team to achieve success.

Most people will pick up the baton, but some may prefer not to contribute to the new culture. You can then find people who do want to contribute to building such a team.

Continue to build a
self managing team

Great teams implement the right strategy with the right people in the right way. Let’s assume that your team is following the right strategy and has the right people in the right places.

The next step is for people to do things in the right way. This calls for them fulfilling their agreed contracts and delivering the picture of success.

Co-ordination is crucial. The deputy will probably act as the chief co-ordinator. They may also have a co-ordination team that ensures that everything is on track.

You are still the leader, but it is vital for the deputy and co-ordination team to make sure things tick. How to make this happen? One approach is to ensure the whole team has regular co-ordination meetings.

The Deputy’s Role Is:

To schedule the meetings, explain the purpose and put together the agenda.

To start the meetings by reminding people of the picture of success.

To describe some of the specific things the whole team has delivered in the past month, for example, towards achieving the picture of success.

To describe some of the specific things the whole team will aim to deliver in the next month towards achieving the picture of success.

To encourage the team to focus on any specific challenges they may face and find solutions to these challenges.

To focus on the specific things that can be done to support people on the road to achieving the team’s picture of success.

The Role of Other People Is:

To prepare properly for the meetings, encourage other people and make positive contributions to ensure the sessions are successful.

To present the specific things they – or their team – have delivered in the past month towards achieving the whole team’s picture of success.

To present the specific things they – or their team – aim to deliver in the next month towards achieving the whole team’s picture of success.

To present some of the challenges they – or their team – face, their suggested solutions for tackling their challenges and any support they would like to help them achieve success.

To help to find solutions to the whole team’s challenges and do whatever is necessary to help it achieve the picture of success.

Putting together a press release

Such meetings may include everybody in the whole team. If not, it can be useful to conclude each meeting by people agreeing on a press release. Adopting this discipline forces people to clarify:

The specific things they have achieved in the meeting.

The decisions that have been made and the reasoning behind these decisions.

The specific thing that people can expect to see happening in the month ahead.

How to put together such a press release? One approach is for the team members to brainstorm and then agree on the following.

The three key messages we want to give other
people regarding the outcomes of the meeting are:




You can, if you wish, sit in on the co-ordination meetings. If possible, it can be useful to restrict your contribution to providing strategic information and knowledge that can help the team to achieve success.

After the session you can spend time with the deputy and co-ordination team. They can ask questions and get your ideas on, for example, how to ensure the meetings continue to be effective and successful.

You can also play a more active role in coaching the deputy and co-ordination team. How to do such coaching?

One approach is to invite people to focus on their roles in ensuring the team is self managing and successful. You can invite them to describe:

The specific things we are doing well – and how we
can do more of these things in the future – are:




The specific things we can do
better in the future – and how – are:




You can then pass on knowledge, models and practical tools to help them succeed.

Good leaders recognise, of course, that they are accountable for ensuring the team achieves its goals. This will remain the case with you, even though you aim to build a more self managing team.

People may well rise to the challenge. If so, they will grow and equip themselves to take on other roles in the future. If not, then you may need to again take hold of the tiller.

At some point, however, it may be worth again looking at how to build a self managing and successful team. This will produce benefits for yourself, the people and the organisation.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you can do to build an even more self managing and successful team.

Describe the specific benefits – for all the various stakeholders – of building such a team.

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