Self-directed work teams is the best way to work

Self-directed work teams is the best way to work
Last Updated: December 29, 2022

    Whats Inside?

In a business setting, most work is accomplished by teams of individuals. Organizations use many kinds of teams, some of which are permanent and some of which are temporary. Teams are used to accomplish tasks that are too large or complex to be done by an individual or that require a diverse set of skills and expertise.


What are work teams?

According to Business Dictionary, Work Teams are ‘A group of employees that works semi-autonomously on recurring tasks. Work teams are most useful where job content changes frequently and employees with limited skills and a specific set of duties are unable to cope.’ Work teams are our usual workplace teams.

In business settings, most work is accomplished by teams of individuals who collaborate on activities with defined outcomes. Because teams are so prevalent in business organizations, employees need to have the skills necessary to work effectively with others.

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” – Andrew Carnegie


The benefits of having work teams

Executives at Xerox have reported that team-based operations are 30 percent more productive than conventional operations. General Mills says that factories organized around team activities are 40 percent more productive than traditionally organized factories. FedEx says that teams reduced service errors (lost packages, incorrect bills) by 13 percent in the first year.

Research shows that companies build and support teams because of their effect on overall workplace performance, both organizational and individual.

The following are the benefits of having teams:

  1. Fosters Creativity and Learning

Creativity thrives when people work together on a team. Brainstorming ideas as a group prevents stale viewpoints that often come out of working solo. Combining unique perspectives from each team member creates more effective selling solutions. Teamwork also maximizes shared knowledge in the workplace and helps one learn new skills. Collaborating on a project creates an enthusiasm for learning that solitary work usually lacks. Being able to share discoveries with the rest of your team excites employees and fosters both individual and team knowledge. (Mattson, 2017)



  1. Diverse perspectives help you come up with winning innovations

According to Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect, some of the most innovative ideas happen at “the intersection” – the place where ideas from different industries and cultures collide. According to a report from McKinsey & Company teams made up of members from diverse backgrounds (gender, age, ethnicity, etc.) are more creative and perform better by up to 35 percent, compared to more homogeneous teams.


  1. Sharing the workload eases burnout

A recent Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23 percent of employees feel burned out at work very often or always. Another 44 percent say they sometimes feel this way. Team members can provide emotional support to each other because they often understand the demands and stress of completing work even better than managers, says Ben Wigert, lead researcher for Gallup’s workplace management practice.


  1. Recognition from other team members can improve your productivity

Getting a pat on the back from the boss can boost an employee’s motivation, but receiving kudos from a team member maybe even more effective. The 2014 TINYpulse Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture Report surveyed more than 200,000 employees.

Participants reported that having the respect of their peers was the #1 reason they go the extra mile at work.


  1. Builds Trust

Relying on other people builds trust, and teamwork establishes strong relationships with coworkers. Despite occasional disagreements, an effective team enjoys working together and shares a strong bond. When you put your trust in a coworker, you are establishing the foundation of a relationship that can endure minor conflicts. Trusting your teammates also provides a feeling of safety that allows ideas to emerge. It helps employees open up and encourage each other. Open communication is key when working on a team and produces effective solutions in difficult group projects. (Mattson, 2017)


  1. Encourages healthy risk-taking

Working as a team allows team members to take more risks, as they have the support of the entire group to fall back on in case of failure. Conversely, sharing success as a team is a bonding experience. Once a team succeeds together, their brainstorming sessions will produce revolutionary ideas without hesitation. In many cases, the riskiest idea turns out to be the best idea. Teamwork allows employees the freedom to think outside the box. (Mattson, 2017)

Team members who work effectively with one another have the capacity for increased productivity. Successful teams comprise members who have an understanding of their roles in the group as well as their teammates' roles and responsibilities. Working collaboratively, effective teams can agree on goals and strategic plans, divide work equitably, and work together to develop new ideas and concepts. In this way, each team contributes to organizational productivity and effectiveness. (McQuerrey,2019)



What are self-directed work teams?

Unlike a Work Team, Self-Directed Work teams are set of individuals in an organization who incorporate various talents and abilities to work toward a common goal or objective without the standard administrative oversight.

Self-directed teams usually consist of around 25 members at most, but the prime self-directed teams are said to have somewhere between five and nine members. Members of self-directed teams use the stated mission of their company to build up their motive, which needs to be valuable and useful to the company. The motives might include:

• Problem-solving.

• Marketing and economic growth.

• Training for a career.

• Product enhancement.

Unlike your usual team, members of self-directed teams have to determine how they intend to work together. Because a boss or supervisor doesn’t direct, they need to settle on the principles and deadlines to meet their objective. Some of the teams establish a code or set of rules that define what is expected from individual members. Even if an issue arises on a project, the team members work together efficiently to come up with a solution (Tait, 2020). Self-Directed Work Teams are also known as Self-managed workgroups; self-regulating workgroups, autonomous workgroups, sociotechnical systems, or empowered teams (Cohen & Bailey, 1997; Manz & Sim, 1987; Sundstrom, McIntyre, Halfhill, & Richards, 2000 as cited in Becker, 2012).

Self-directed work teams (SDWTs) are involved in decisions related to production methods, financial and budgetary matters, human resource issues, and business goals. Team members have increased organizational responsibility and may be required to monitor and improve their work performance. For example, they may be involved in selecting new members, disciplining other team members, writing formal peer evaluations, coordinating daily production schedules, cross-training, and other duties. Seventy-nine (79) percent of Fortune 1000 companies have work teams with some degree of self-direction (Louler, Mahrman & Ledford, 1998 cited in Becker, 2012). Organizations implement self-directed work teams to reduce costs, improve productivity, and improve quality. They are also implemented as a way to increase employee involvement and to empower workers.


The benefits of self-directed work teams?

There are plenty of advantages to having self-directed teams. A successful self-directed team is likely to boost a company's efficiency and productivity. When the team members possess the right set of managerial and technical skills for the job, the team may achieve results that would not be seen under a command-and-control approach. Self-directed teams have the freedom and flexibility to devise innovative solutions to business problems and rapid responses to organizational challenges. Companies may even be able to trim their managerial ranks as the team shows growing levels of independence.

According to Becker, 2012 the following are possible advantages of having self-directed work teams:

  • Greater autonomy and variety can result in more satisfied employees with lower turnover and absenteeism.
  • Cross-training workers to do all of the jobs increases team flexibility.
  • Increasing employee knowledge of work processes helps team members solve problems and suggest improvements.
  • Employees who are empowered to make decisions and initiate changes are more likely to take responsibility for their work and maybe more motivated to produce a high-quality product or service.
  • Increase in employee commitment and improved quality and productivity.

General Motors, Proctor & Gamble & Xerox by implementing SDWT resulted in approximately 30-40% improvement in productivity. In Kodak customer assistance center SDWT resulted in a 100% increase in profits. FedEx improved their service by reducing the loss of packages and incorrect billing by 13%. Rubbermaid increased sales by 50% above projections.

Another example of a successful Self-directed work team organization cited by Becker (2012), is Harley-Davidson’s assembly plant in Kansas City, Missouri. There are no team leaders at this plant, decisions are made by consensus in work teams that consist of natural workgroups. SDWTs are responsible for assembly fabrications, paint, and operational support. The team concept was conceived and implemented jointly by management and the union. Flexibility is built into each SDWT which consists of ten employees; customers dictate production demands. Team members monitor budgeting and production and have access to financial and operational data. Compensation is based on attaining a skill level of at least 75% of all tasks performed and continuous training is an important part of the overall system.


What are the features of self-directed teams?

The following are features of successful self-managed work teams:

  1. Joint Responsibility: Each team member is responsible for their area of expertise. They are fully invested in maintaining their part for the project and must hold it up themselves. That part of the project’s success rests solely on their shoulders.
  2. Interdependence: Because each team member is responsible for a specific aspect of the project, team members must fully trust that their teammates will deliver on their assigned tasks, as their work is dependent on the completion of their teammate’s tasks. All team members might be self-directed in their work, but their tasks are related to one another and must work harmoniously.
  3. Empowerment: The oil that greases the self-directed team is autonomy. Each team member, being an expert in their field, must have the power to pull the trigger. They must be able to proceed without having to go through an approval process that will only slow them and the project down. This efficiency is part of the positive thrust for self-directed teams.
  4. Common Goal: The key concept behind a successful self-directed team is that they are working independently but on a common goal. If this isn’t established, then the many moving parts will fail to unite and achieve that goal. Therefore, it’s critical from the beginning that the team is aware of that common goal.


Self-Directed Work Teams provide clear benefits to organizations in terms of worker attitudes, behavior, and performance. Employee performance and attitudes in SDWTs are superior to those in other forms of work organizations and autonomy and participation are associated with higher performance.


Tatenda Sayenda-Havire is a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and human resources consulting firm. Phone +263 (242) 481946-48/481950 or email: or visit our website at


Tatenda Sayenda
This article was written by Tatenda a Guest at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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