Organizational Agility: How to Establish Self-Managing Teams

By Caroline Roberson on June 9, 2022

How to hire employees with the skills and attitude to succeed on a self-managing team.

In order to foster innovation companies can’t afford to waste time forcing every decision through a bureaucratic maze. They need to be more agile, allowing employees across the organization to make decisions in real time to accelerate results.

Three-quarters of business leaders now say organizational agility is one of their top priorities, according to a recent McKinsey report. Of those who have not begun agile transformations, more than half say plans for either unit-level or company-wide transformations are in the works. A core component of these agile transformations is the adoption of self-managing teams.

In these environments, employee teams lead themselves and are relied upon to make decisions, resolve conflict, and take ownership of the results – good or bad – without the oversight of a higher level manager. This management style has been proven to be more productive and innovative, and to deliver greater customer satisfaction and lower workplace stress than conventional hierarchical structures.

Companies like Zappos, Tesla, and W.L. Gore (inventor of Gore-Tex) have already embraced a culture of self-management where everyone’s ideas and authority carry equal weight; and other companies in search of agility are quickly following suit.

But to successfully embrace self-management as part of an agile transformation, companies can’t just direct people to operate on their own. These teams need training and a unique set of skills and attributes that allow them to comfortably function without the guidance of a leader.

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Four skills required for self-managed teams

Companies interested in adopting self-managed teams should start by adapting their recruiting strategies to identify these candidates. Pre-employment assessments can be a vital piece of this process, giving recruiters an unbiased view of candidates’ skills and traits to quantify who will most likely thrive in a self-managed environment. These candidates will demonstrate strength in the following:

  1. Leadership Skills: In an agile environment, everyone has an opportunity to lead, so companies will need to hire accordingly. Look for candidates who are determined, persistent, and direct. These employees will be able to confidently take initiative and have a big enough personality to influence team members in challenging situations.
  2. Teamwork: Self-managed teams need to be fluid so that the person best able to lead in that situation is put in charge. That takes teamwork and a willingness to collaborate, regardless of seniority. When assessing candidates, look for people who are cooperative, open-minded, empathetic, and respectful of others opinions – even if those opinions contradict their own.
  3. Problem-solving ability: Self-managed teams need to be able to rapidly identify problems, come to a consensus, and deliver on a plan of action. This takes people who are able to remain objective, good in a crisis, and naturally intuitive.
  4. Emotional Intelligence: Without a leader in charge, everyone on the team needs strong relationship management skills, and the insight to control their emotions. Emotionally intelligence candidates will demonstrate self-awareness, and show an ability to be perceptive, empathetic and adaptable.

As companies think about the future and their evolving talent needs, they should consider their own agile transformation plans, and how it will affect the skills they look for in new hires. By starting early and adopting tools to help them understand how candidates will perform in the workplace, they can build a bench of talent who will be ready to step into these autonomous roles and help drive innovation across the firm.

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