The myths about self-steering teams

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Many organizations started with self-steering head over heels after the introduction of mandatory working from home. The COVID measures forced managers to let go and to trust employees. Many managers, but certainly also employees, didn’t know very well what they were getting into, let alone had time to prepare.

Self-steering is a misleading term. It suggests that teams set direction and decide by themselves. The advantages, namely the autonomy leading to more motivated, more happy and healthy employees, are tempting.

Moreover, the strict COVID measures forced also teams not fit for self-steering to adopt it and forced an immediate introduction, while self-steering is a process. Therefore, it is quite understandable that not everyone had a successful experience.

Let’s take a look at the myths about self-steering teams.

With the introduction of self-steering, the team is in the lead

A team that determines the way forward, the direction for the team, is a recipe for chaos. It is the managers’ responsibility to set clear goals and to clarify the playing field for the team. Within these guidelines the team can decide autonomously how to organize in order to reach the goals. That’s why self-steering teams are more and more called self-organizing teams.

In order to have all noses in the same direction and to stimulate commitment, managers sometimes decide to involve teams in setting direction for the team. This is considered as a good practice for mature teams as we find ourselves in volatile and uncertain times, and priorities for the team can change often for that reason.

With the introduction of working from home, a manager has to let go and use the time freed up for non-managerial tasks

The level of steering needed, the level of freedom determined by the set playing field, very much depends on the preference and job maturity of the individual employee and the team. Quite some team members don’t like the responsibility, the autonomy and freedom that come with self-steering. But also managers often have a hard time to let go, and find how they can support their team in the growth of self-steering. New management capabilities center around clearly and repeatedly communicating the why and what (direction), coaching the team taking into account individual talents and ambitions, and fostering connection.

As a conclusion

The main advantage of introducing self-steering in an organization is the agility that comes with it. Delegating the responsibility of organizing the work to the team and making sure the team has access to the right information, will allow teams to react fast to opportunities and problems they experience. The autonomy, the collaboration within the team and the use of everyone’s talents are all levers for high performance and happiness at work.

Introducing self-steering is a process. Self-steering also exists in many shades. This allows organizations and managers, that better understand the drivers and the needs, to decide on the level and speed of implementation.

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