Self-Managed Teams vs Command & Control

LibertyIT Consulting PTY LTD - Management Consulting & Core Banking Experts

It is a safe assumption that the majority of people in our society recognise that happiness, and harmony between our peers, are essential components to living a fulfilled and prosperous life. It seems most people manage to apply this understanding to best align their social settings to attract positive engagements; and find that when they do, they enjoy themselves more and are more creative, productive and inspired – so why do we not recognise the role that enjoyment and a positive environment play in managing an effective workplace?

A study by Gallop tells us that only one in ten people in the US workplace are engaged and inspired. If the alarming stats unveiled in the study are an indication of a global trend, then we can hardly expect that the workplace environment as it stands is producing the most effective results for companies, or their staff. But this issue is about much more than productivity, it’s about health.

“The workplace is literally killing us” – Helen Sanderson

According to a study conducted by professor Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford University, the workplace is the fifth leading cause of death in the US. In the study, he describes how the enhanced stress levels that the majority of people are experiencing at work, are likely contributing to the increasing occurrence of damaging chronic disease. Many readers I’m sure will agree that when they’re under pressure at work, it directly effects their lives outside of work, and that they would be a lot happier if they could just work under the conditions which they know are optimal for them. Instead, the majority of people are accepting roles they are unhappy in, simply because that is what is available.

Traditionally, organisations across the globe have been managed utilising a common methodology known as ‘command & control’, in which a manager, boss or bigwig, accepts a higher salary in exchange for the increased responsibility of managing all the actions of the organisation. There is of course a trickle-down effect, with some power and responsibility spreading down to managers of individual components of the organisation. However, it is most often the boss whose head is on the chopping block when things go wrong. The enhanced pressure of potentially being displaced from the high paying position they’ve acquired, increases the stress of the boss, who most often still has vital operational tasks within the organisation to complete in tandem to their managerial role. Inevitably, the increasing pressure felt by the boss will be translated into stress for the other employees in the organisation as the boss begins to make irrational requests from the team in an effort to reduce their own stress levels.

While only an example, the situation described above is eerily accurate when compared to many firsthand recounts of stressful workplaces. Best-selling author Daniel Pink has spent his life researching the workplace and human behavior and says in his book Drive that “the secret to high performance and satisfaction at work lies in meeting the deeply human need to control our own lives”. If the majority of people really do feel unhealthily stressed at work, we have a systemic issue on our hands. We need to reinvent the way we manage organisations; and in the seeming wake of command & control as a standard practice in business, a new management methodology is emerging that is instead focused on self-management and purpose.

What does a self-managed team look like?

A self-managed team recognises the inequality present in the traditional ‘please the boss at all costs’ scenario and removes the boss/manager position from the equation altogether. Instead, a self-managed team is comprised of different roles that are designed to work together effectively and that aim to evenly spread the workload across every member of the entire organisation. Team members are each designated a role based on their skills and lifestyle and encouraged to derive their own best work practices to ensure their enjoyment of the role.

Rather than the traditional boss figure, self-managed teams utilise a coach, that is elected by the team, and may be internal or external to the organisation. The role of the coach is specifically to support the other members of the team to perform their role most efficiently; and without the pressure of operational tasks, the coach is able to provide this support without increasing their own stress levels. If the coach is external to the organisation, they are paid a salary equal to their perceived value by the team; if they are internal to the organisation, then they share an equivalent workload with other team members. In either case, the financial inequality of the Command & Control structure is effectively alleviated by utilising this new self-managed methodlogy, and team members feel more directly supported as a result of it.

Self-management is trending with new organisations utilising this methodology emerging all around the world. The majority of those that have experienced working in this new style, report that they are feeling happier and more fulfilled in their role. They describe the ability to form deeper, more meaningful relationships with colleagues, and that they are more productive and more creative in their role as a direct result.

How do self-managed team members hold each other accountable?

Self-managed teams are driven by trust. The responsibilities of the traditional boss figure have not disappeared, instead are now spread equally across the team – all heads are now on the chopping block, but strangely in self-managed teams this seems to stimulate comradery more so than rivalry. The sharing of responsibility naturally motivates people to bring any tension to the forefront and encourage their team members others to do the same. A focus on knowing why each person is chosen for their role and how they will be effective at it, stimulates an organically supportive environment for collaboration and opens the door for constructive criticism. These conversations are not always going to be easy, and self-managed teams support members to engage in them positively, through implementation of effective and agreed upon review processes. The role of the coach in these situations is not to point blame, but instead to hold up a mirror, observing and pointing out any tensions they see within the team to drive valuable conversations.

Written team agreements are commonly utilised by self-managed teams to add accountability. They explicitly detail how members will work together and are regularly reviewed by the team. This process ensures that individuals clearly understand their role in the organisation as well as how to best interact with and support their colleagues. Specific review meetings are utilised to update these agreements and discuss openly what’s working, what’s not working, and how each individual’s own values align to the organisation’s holistic purpose.

Why are self-managed teams the future?

In the Aristotle project, Google led a study researching the secrets to high performance teams. They remarkably found that it is not team leadership, team composition or purpose that drives success in a work environment – it is psychological safety, the ability to be open and vulnerable with your colleagues. The same has been shown at the London Business School, where the discovered that when a person can be honest and themselves at work, they are happier, more efficient and much more likely to stay in their role. Unsurprisingly, they also found that customers were much happier with their service as a result of these changes.

The early signs are clear that a transition from command & control to self-managed organisations may well be a large part of the solution to the increasingly stressful work environment globally. Self-managed methodlogy recognises that a focus on aligning human value with purpose is a more effective way to drive efficiency than the top-down hierarchy that forms under the command & control style management, as team members learn how they work best themselves, how to best interact with other individuals, and how to support the team as a whole. It seems that in order to create healthier work environments, we need two things: control over the way we individually work and better guidance and social support built into our managerial processes. We need to enjoy our work lives more – finding the ways we each individually work most effectively, and transparently communicating these practices in order to be healthier and more successful as a whole team.

Author: Hailey Romeo – Liberty IT Head of Marketing

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