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Myth #4: Is self-led a self-delusion?

December 18, 2013

By Charley Morrow

If you missed my first three posts on the myths of teams, check them out here: Myth #1, Myth #2 and Myth #3. Today, we unravel Myth #4: Self-led teams don’t need leadership.

iStock_000012107875XXLargeShared responsibility and empowerment is a good thing, right?

It sounds like a great idea—rather than appointing a single team leader, share the accountability and responsibility across the entire team. Here’s the problem: there are many hurdles to overcome. Our research shows that teams rate themselves particularly poorly on efficient processes, decision making, and metric-based feedback. Other low-rated abilities among the teams we studied include measure customer satisfaction, coordinate work processes, celebrate accomplishments, have effective meetings, and measure individual competencies. This confirms reports from the field.

The truth is, teams need leadership. 

All of the weaknesses cited above are leadership functions. Even when team members have the skills and commitment needed to get the job done, if work processes lack coordination, meetings are ineffective, accomplishments are not celebrated, and individual abilities are not assessed, teams break down and there is no formal leadership figure to get things back on track.

In any case, a leader will emerge.

No matter how you configure a self-directed team, someone will sooner or later assume the leadership role, even if temporarily. It’s simply human nature.

Successful teams always take time, skills, and resources—self-led and self-directed teams are not short cuts. A leader still often exists, but perhaps just informally. And, these self-directed/managed work teams are not immediately efficient—they require support and time to “get it right.” Self-led teams may be an appropriate way for today’s organizations to increase innovation and empowerment. But, we must be realistic about the need for leadership and the investment required.

Have you participated in a self-directed or self-managed work team? What were your challenges? How quickly did a leader emerge?

Morrow_Charley_2Charley Morrow is Vice President of Assessments at Linkage. He has over 20 years of experience designing, implementing, and evaluating training, individual assessment, and organizational-transformation interventions. He’s also an expert in developing assessments and methodologies for individual, team, and organizational motivation and performance. Follow him on Twitter @CharleyMorrow.



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