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Leading a Self-Managed Team

Leading a Self-Managed Team

Self-directed teams have been around as a concept for over 25 years now, but the use of them is still quite variable with much confusion still existing about what they are and how they are best led.  When a large European car manufacturer decided to evolve a self-directed team culture, they helpfully published a very useful list of steps for all of its supervisors and managers, which is shown in the diagram below:

  • Step 1: Groups are formed, with a team leader and a structure
  • Step 2: Group members have their own development plans (to raise skills levels) and have clear team roles
  • Step 3: Teams develop their own rules and start to take responsibility for their own tools and equipment and other assets
  • Step 4: Teams start to liaise with customers and suppliers, and have further responsibility for their tools and equipment and other assets
  • Step 5: Teams start to plan their work and have full responsibility for their tools and equipment and other assets
  • Step 6: Teams are working with customers and suppliers, and reviewing their own performance, to improve processes
  • Step 7: Teams are able to handle internal conflicts and appraise their team leader/manager
  • Step 8: Teams set their own targets and plan and control costs
  • Step 9: Teams are fully skilled and recruit and induct new members
  • Step 10: Teams are self-managed

At the most simple level, this 10-steps list shows that a tight structure imposed from above in a traditional team culture, is progressively replaced with an organizational system that the team controls and imposes upon itself to get work done.

Self-managing teams are not leaderless. In fact, the role of the leader in self-managing teams becomes much more important, because the team has much more responsibility. And because the team has to organize, plan, co-ordinate, control and take command of its work, it needs a leader who is able to create and support a team able to do all this. This more steering oriented team leader therefore needs to ensure that his or her team understands its role, has the right mix of people and skills to undertake the role, and knows what is expected of it. The leader also needs to assist the team learn how to perform the various tasks they now have responsibility for, and to make sure that they achieve the goals (or reach the standards or targets) to which they have agreed.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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