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How teams work
How teams work

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1.3.3 Potential problems with self-managed teams

For all their potential benefits, successful self-managed teams are not without their problems. They can be difficult to set up, particularly if there is not a culture of using self-managed teams in an organisation. For example, the team may find it difficult to interact with other parts of the organisation because of their different working practices. Individuals new to self-managed teams may be anxious if they perceive that they may be given extra responsibility. Conversely, team leaders may feel that their role is threatened by having some responsibility taken away from them. Everyone may need additional training to give them the extra skills that they may require in their new team. There can be more redundant communication in self-managed teams because there is often no clear structure for communication, obtaining guidance or making decisions. Consequently, guidance may be sought from the entire team and decisions will be made by discussion, rather than by reference to a team leader who is empowered to make decisions, as would be the norm in a project or operational team. The team leader must provide an initial structure until the team has established its rules and norms. Finally, an ever-present problem with teams is that of ‘freeloaders’. If a member of a team does not meet their responsibilities this will impact upon the work of the other team members, and hence the productivity of the team as a whole.

Planning, preparation, ongoing communication and follow-up are all necessary for a transition towards self-managed team working. For a self-managed team to remain successful, its members must be tolerant of errors and allow for learning, and there must be trust both within the teams and between the team members and team leader. This will allow risks to be taken and information to be shared, and will foster a willingness to accept change.