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Share through Email advertisement To get work done, many companies organize employees into self-managing teams that are basically left to run themselves with some guidance from an external leader. Interestingly, though, relatively little attention has been paid to the leaders who must oversee such working groups.
At first, it seems contradictory: Why should a self-managing team require any leadership? In actuality, though, self-managing teams require a specific kind of leadership.
Even a team that is autonomous in terms of its activities and decision making must still continually receive direction from higher levels in the organization.
Many managers today are expected to fulfill the role of external leader, but most receive conflicting signals regarding how to go about it. To investigate such issues, we conducted a study of self-managing teams at a large manufacturing plant of a Fortune corporation.
Our research has shown that, contrary to common perception, the best external leaders were not necessarily the ones who had adopted a hands-off approach, nor were they simply focused on encouraging team members in various ways.
That process required specific behaviors that can be grouped into four basic functions: We chose this site because it offered a rich research sample: The plant had transitioned to self-managing work teams almost five years prior to our data collection, and there were such teams reporting up through 66 external leaders.
This large pool of external leaders in one location provided a wide range of individuals in that role and allowed us to control for organizational context.
Our method was to select samples of high-performing and average external leaders and to discover through interviews how their behaviors, strategies and attitudes differed. We used three criteria for selecting our key participants: We then conducted intensive three-hour interviews with each of the 19 individuals selected, regarding critical incidents they recalled.
A content analysis of those interviews allowed us to develop an exhaustive list of actions and behaviors that were noted consistently by superior leaders but not by average ones.
Iterative readings of the interview transcripts helped us to winnow down that list to the 11 distinct behaviors reported in this article. Statistical analyses also revealed that 10 of the behaviors were demonstrated significantly more often by the superior-performing leaders.
To help interpret the findings and to develop our model of how these 11 behaviors emerge as the process of effective external leadership, we also spoke with a total of 90 team members: We supplemented that information with interviews of the 10 managers to whom the external leaders reported, and we also collected information via questionnaires from the broader group of senior managers and directors at the plant.
Furthermore, we later examined the applicability of our findings by interviewing external leaders at other organizations and in different industries, including those for product-development groups in a design organization and executive-level teams at a bank, a health-care organization and a manufacturing company.
The behaviors are distinct but mutually reinforcing, and they require the external leader to continually cross the border between the team and the broader organization. Indeed, an early experiment by General Foods Corp. Even so, the role of the people in charge of those groups has remained somewhat of a mystery.
To be sure, leading a team that needs to manage itself is inherently tricky. The role is highly ambiguous by nature and, on the face of it, oxymoronic. In general, self-managing teams tend to have well-defined job functions and are responsible for monitoring and managing their own performance.
Instead of managers telling them what to do, these teams gather and synthesize information, make important decisions, and take collective responsibility for meeting their goals. If the quality or productivity of a team is substandard, its external leader is taken to task.
If they make the wrong decision, it still comes back on me. Back ina field study published about that early experiment at General Foods revealed external leaders caught in the middle: Their teams criticized them for being too controlling, while their own managers complained that they were being too lax.
Prior to and since our study, we have found confusion about the external-leader role in other companies and at all organizational levels.
Consider the senior executive of a large Midwestern bank who desperately wanted to empower his team of high-level bank executives but was unsure how to go about that. When he attended meetings, he felt team members relied too heavily on his opinion, but when he stopped going to meetings, he felt stuck in an information black hole.
Even with his many years of experience, he really did not know how to manage that group. The problem is that a self-managing team requires leadership of a very different sort. Researchers agree that the external-leader role is more complex than the traditional manager role.
In our study, they were responsible for as many as eight. More importantly, the external leader absolutely must avoid any heavy-handed attempts at managing. Teams also depend on external leaders for help in acquiring resources. Four Functions, 11 Behaviors Although the essence of a self-managing team is autonomy, the quality of its link to the organization is pivotal to success.
Some external leaders perform that role much better than others, with the superior ones tending to excel at relating, scouting, persuading and empowering. Each function requires specific behaviors, of which there are a total of Examined the critical success factors for a superb self-managing team.
43 self-managing teams at Xerox were assessed. Each team participated in a 2-hr interview; their managers provided. For a discussion of studies that have demonstrated the effect of organizational context on group effectiveness, see Sundstrom, De Meuse, and Futrell, “Work Teams,” and Ruth Wageman, “Critical Success Factors for Creating Superb Self-Managing Teams,” Organizational Dynamics .
This article discusses the critical success factors for creating superb self-managing teams. The central principle behind self-managing teams is that the teams themselves, rather than managers, take responsibility for their work, monitor their own performance, and alter their performance strategies.
Developing Effective Self-Managing Work Teams in Service Organizations Critical success factors for creating superb self-managing teams.
Organizational Dynamics, 26, Google Scholar, Developing Effective Self-Managing Work Teams in Service Organizations.
Critical Success Factors for Creating Superb Self-Managing Teams RUTH WAGEMAN 50 ORGANIZATIONAL DYNAMICS. In many cases, management intended the groups to go even further in the decisions self-managing teams; CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTORS.
the teams. Critical success factors for creating superb self-managing teams Author; Ruth Wageman Source: Organizational Dynamics. Which has the greater impact on .