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Developing An Effective Self-Managed Work Team In The 21st Century Organization

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Developing an Effective Self-Managed Work Team in the 21st Century Organization

Originally thought of as a management fad, self-managed teams in an organization have become an increasingly common and accepted practice (Blackwell, Gibson & Tesone, 2003). What may have started from an innovative way to reduce management positions and increase employee involvement has now evolved into a crucial strategy to increase organization effectiveness and efficiency. However, many organizations are faced with the daunting task of determining the logistics of the team. The inability to effectively determine these important factors have resulted in many organizations failing in their mission to effectively utilize this concept (Elmuti, 1996).

Research regarding the effectiveness of self-managed work teams has resulted in astronomical amounts of data. Simone Kauffeld's research has provided evidence that self-managed teams are more competent than traditional work groups (Kauffeld, 2006). Kauffeld examined twelve aspects of competence between self-managed work teams and traditional work teams. Kauffeld's (2006) results concluded that self-managed work teams performed better in seven out of the twelve aspects of competence as follows:

a. Describing problems in a differentiated manner,

b. Linking problems,

c. Linking solutions,

d. Structure,

e. Less often lose the train of thought in details and examples,

f. Make fewer negative remarks concerning participation,

g. Better planning measures to realize solutions. (pp. 10-11)

However, some researchers believe the goal of building an effective team should not be the primary focus; instead the focus is directed on cultivating strong and healthy leadership which will then result in the creation of an effective team as part of the natural course (Crother-Laurin, 2006). Other researchers believe the effectiveness relies on the culture of the organization; to increase effectiveness of a team the organization must change the organizational culture (Gibson, Tesone & Whitney, 2001). These beliefs are strategies best implemented over an extended period of time, and thus not a helpful tool for modern organizations looking to utilize teams in the "here and now" as a means to compete in their industry and increase productivity.

Self-managed work teams have the ability, when effectively utilized, to significantly affect the "bottom line" of the organization by increasing revenues, decreasing costs, improving technology and productivity as well as improving employee satisfaction, motivation and improving customer satisfaction. It is no surprise then why organizations engage consultants to train managers in the art of developing an effective self-managed work team. However, consultants are a costly avenue and not always the most effective method as they lack the knowledge of the organizational culture particulars which may play an integral role in the effectiveness of a team. The remainder of this paper will address the different dimensions of an effective self-managed team and focus on selected tools and methods that an organization can utilize, thus increasing its ability to consistently succeed in their endeavor.


As with any other process, top management support is the key factor. Without this support, it is a waste of time to move forward with implementation. In addition to top management support, there are three areas organizations need to consider when embarking on this endeavor: goal or purpose, training and basic elements.

Goal or Purpose

First, organizations need to ask two crucial questions: What is the goal of this team, what problems are we trying to solve? Without a goal, the team will be left "spinning their wheels."

There is an old saying that if you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there. Success depends on clearly defined targets and after those targets are set the team will then be able to decide the plan on how to reach those targets. Each organization will have different goals, some broad such as the responsibility for running a unit, while others more focused, such as improving a specific process in the department. Whichever the case, it is imperative for success that the team is aware of what targets have been set. Communication of goals to employees is needed; however, the communication is not limited to just the members of the team but extends to all employees of the organization who may be affected by any decisions or changes generated by the team. This communication is best handled prior to the implementation and selection of the team.


The second area of consideration is training, not technical skills based training such as required to perform the job, but what are referred to as "soft-skills." The fundamental concept of self-managed teams utilizes front line employees and empowers these employees to make changes that affect the organization. However, in many cases these employees have not had the experience functioning in this type of group and may lack critical communication skills, conflict management and diversity awareness. Failure to recognize the need for training can lead to derailment of the team. There are three areas of training that the organization needs to focus on for the self-managed work team.

The first area of training for the members of a self-managed team is communication. Communication is key within any high performance team, even more so within the self-managed team. This team is expected to "take off" with ideas, concepts and notions on improving processes and efficiency, but this expectation is limited if none of the members of the team are able to conduct productive discussions with others and became upset because their

idea is not received in open arms from the others. Communication training seems like a basic concept, but one the organization tends to overlook during the implementation stage. The level of communication and interpersonal skill training required will vary based on the demographics and culture of the organization; however there is no short supply of material available from both external consultants and internal Human Resource Departments.

The second area of training is conflict management. Conflict management research has distinguished four different ways of managing conflict (contending, conceding, avoiding, collaborating), but in reality there



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