Team management | 9 min read

3 key elements of a self-managed team

self managed team

Being a tradie is demanding work. It’s physical, it’s tiring, and the hours can be a real killer.

Running a tradie business is even harder –your schedule is packed, your tasks are endless, and you’re responsible not only for your own family, but for the families of your staff as well. Some days you’re bound to wish there were a way to have the shop just run itself.

Well, you aren’t alone. The demand for a more independent workforce has led to some interesting changes in the way tradies do business. Traditionally structured teams are becoming less popular, with self-managed gaining ground. These teams run with a minimal need for oversight, plan many of their own activities, and execute with precision.

Substantially lower management costs are only the tip of the iceberg for these in the way of benefits. There’s a higher potential for success when members are committed and skilled, and the self-management model also invites a mindset of personal growth among team members.

To give you a clearer idea of what it takes to run a self-managed team, this guide will narrow down a definition of these teams looks like, and then illustrate 3 key components of the model for tradie business owners looking to enjoy its benefits.

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What Is a Self-Managed Team?

Business Dictionary defines a self-managed team as: “A self-organized, semi-autonomous small group of employees whose members determine, plan, and manage their day-to-day activities and duties under reduced or no supervision.”

Simply put, these are teams that operate largely on their own. They are responsible for themselves and are left to their own devices –often to highly positive results.

The differences between these and traditionally structured teams go far beyond the surface, however. One interesting thing to note is that no real organisational order exists within the team itself. Strict hierarchies are often forgotten, with a shared responsibility amongst all team members taking priority instead.

Another important difference are the relatively fewer limits put on individuals. A traditionally structured team always has set roles and job descriptions, but for self-managed teams, workers can exercise flexibility. They can take on new responsibilities or try out new skills.

Lastly, the difference in scope and perspective make for a crucial difference. This new trend moves away from looking at the ‘small picture’. Team members are encouraged to look past singular projects or contracts and engage in the ‘big picture’ of their company.

The hype behind these teams is fairly well-founded. They’ve become a bit of a golden child among Human Resource strategists when it comes to development and profitability, and for good reason.

Now that you know what a self-managed team is and why having one can make for better business, the next step is building one of your own with these 3 core elements.

self managed team

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1. Independent Members

The first step to creating a self-managed team capable of governing themselves is to train your tradies to be self-sufficient. The model relies on having employees who are able to work without a structure, or can set one for themselves. These employees should be able to find their own pace of productivity without a strict schedule or defined responsibilities, and still deliver quality results.

These are tradies who can conceptualise and execute plans on their own. They should be able to function without instructions from a supervisor. Most importantly, they need a clear direction from their employers and the freedom to follow through on that direction.

How can you make this happen? For starters, you can recognize that the ability to be self-managed stems from self-motivation. Independent workers can function without the need for validation, or guidelines from above to show them they’re working. Validation is important to employee motivation but so is knowing when to give positive reinforcement –hovering with a compliment ready won’t do, but validating a well-crafted plan might.

There’s more you can do to help instill this independence among your tradies. You could offer training outside their respective areas of expertise in order to widen their skill set and boost their confidence. Alternately, you might consider providing opportunities for learning on the job, such as individual projects (just be sure it’s a task they can reasonably handle!)

Empowerment through independence makes for more efficient and more effective team members.

self managed team

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2. A Collaborative Team

We know, this might sound like an oxymoron. What happened to forming an independent workforce, you might ask.

Rather than contradicting, independence and collaboration work hand-in-hand. A collaborative team is one that works well as a unit–one that puts chemistry to work and enables each member to reach greater heights.

Your tradies should work independently, but never alone. In light of this, you can think of a self-managed team as a sort of mutual support system.

The perfect team is one that has a good working relationship, and breeds a healthy amount of trust. People who belong to one have few problems communicating and dividing up the work, so much so, that each member is trusted fully (read: not micromanaged) with his/her respective task. The result is a group in harmony, where each member’s weakness is made invisible by another’s strengths.

Collaboration is particularly important to your self-managed team’s success. Teams can implode when the pressure is on, and you want to make sure your next workplace disaster isn’t a consequence of poor employee relations.

To promote greater collaboration among your team members, encourage open lines of communication, and work with them to resolve internal problems instead of yelling orders to improve –like any decent sports coach or parent.

Ask for regular updates on projects to keep a handle on their work, and experiment with guided brainstorming sessions where you can observe their group thought processes and egg them in the right direction when necessary. Note that you shouldn’t directly interfere with the team, but rather give a helping hand when the situation truly calls for it.

self managed team

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3. Capable Leaders

Contrary to popular belief, a self-managed team is not completely absent of leadership –it’s more a matter of keeping a fair distance from traditional management. Leadership in a self-managed team has more to do with guidance and alignment than any conventional managerial processes.

In a corporate setting, leaders create the line between the team and the organisation; they manage as ‘go-betweens’ and represent the team when talking to higher-ups. For your tradie business, however, leaders serve more as mentors, emergency problem-solvers, and conflict mediators.

Leaders are also there to keep your team well-supported. We recommend installing senior employees as leaders, in order to ensure mentorship and guidance takes place.

Leading a team implies smoothing the path in terms of work. In your case, or in the case of whomever you put in charge, this can be done by listening closely to the team’s needs and problems when it comes to office policies. Some rules are begging to be broken, either because they’re difficult to work with, or downright pointless.

Take their grievances or pain points seriously, and make sure your work environment is tailored to maximize their productivity instead of stunting it.

Conclusion

As you can tell, having a self-managed team is different from letting your tradies run wild and do as they please. There’s a method to letting them work independently of your strict oversight, and it’s important to chart a proper course before sending them off on their own.

Setting up this type of team structure may seem like a lot of work, what with the need to restructure, retrain, and embrace some risk. If you play your cards right, however, the increased productivity, innovation, and profit sure to outweigh the costs.

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