There's a lot of buzz about Self-Directed Teams these days. The concept is very revolutionary and self-evidently beneficial as long as you are not the manager of the team. Think about it, suddenly a team is self-directed - everybody knows what they are supposed to work upon, they pick their work, solve their own problems, meet every morning and update the team of the contributions to it, etc. The team members are very conscious about the business value they are delivering and have managed to get the communication channels set up within the team and built bridges across to the business. Utopia, isn't it? Well, for some it might not be, or so it seems. Put yourself in the shoes of the person who was until a few weeks back was managing this team and ensured that all these things happened. But now, these have started to happen and it is all being managed by everybody. So, the big question this person has is, "What do managers do in self-directed teams?"
Now that the team members are doing what I did day-to-day, what's my role?
- Leadership - While the teams is busy managing their own internal affairs, there's some shepherding still required to lead the team in the right direction, which is aligned with the vision and mission of the company. There's a good blog-post I found that very aptly describes the differences between sheep herding and shepherding.
- Removal of Barriers - Barrier Busters: As much as it seems to be non-issue, it is. Teams that are solving cutting edge problem and busy developing solutions for tomorrow, are surprisingly also very poor at removing barriers on their own. It is not because they don't want to, but more often than not it is because their barriers are non-typical. They can be anything from regulatory, trade, and market barriers to politics, bureaucracy, etc. Teams involved in technology generation are usually not very interested in speding their time in these kind of issues.
- Facilitation and Co-ordination
- Development of Staff - Training and Mentoring: Often overlooked and seldom undetook, training is very important. I'd recommend everyone to read The Cycle of Leadership by Noel M. Tichy. Read more about the book at: http://www.noeltichy.com/cycle.html
- Driving Innovation - Innovation today is what strategy used to be until a few years back. You need to be on the bandwagon of innovation. Needless to say, it requires a certain amout of experience and familiarity with the business, a deep understanding of the tools of the trade, courage, and bandwidth of time and resources.
- Sharing Lessons Learned with rest of the Organization - Amongst large companies that are out there the difference between really successful and barely sustaining ones is the difference between their middle managers. In companies where middle managers are messengers of lessons learned and different successfully implemented ideas there is a certain robustness, pride, and confidence. GE is a good example of this model. It's a big job and requires tireless efforts on behalf of the middle management, but seldom picked up by middle managers.
- Continuous Improvement - There are very few teams that like change. Once they have stablized they, infact, resist change. And then there are some changes that are not very pleasant to think of, at least on the onset. e.g. a change to move the team from the wasteful office cubicle layout to open space configuration. A team needs a manager to make such decisions and also to identify other things that can be improved.
- Process Czar - Let's not forget that no matter how self-directed a team is, it'll start to cut corners. It is a manager's job to to make sure that the processes that the team has chosen are being followed by everyone and if not, then to figure out the reason(s) and modify the operating guidelines.
I would also like to encourage the readers to share their experiences, observations and opinions on the role of middle management in their organizations. Please feel free to comment on this post.
Image taken from: http://www.toothpastefordinner.com/070806/manager-set-list.gif