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Becoming a Self-Organizing Workplace With a Diverse Team

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Two people working together at a desk and three more people behind discussing ideas

The best managers create an environment for their team to succeed. These leaders empower their workers to make the right decisions on how to get tasks done. Rather than supervising methods, great managers focus on the end work product and hold their employees accountable for this. Although this is not a new management approach, a buzz phrase has emerged in recent years to describe it - a self-organizing workplace.

For the leader of a diverse workgroup, it may sound especially challenging to achieve a self-organized team. How can you give your workers this freedom when cultural differences are impeding group synergy and production?

The answer is that when properly conceived and applied, a self-organizing approach can orient the team towards output, thereby minimizing the effects of cultural dissonance. What the team achieves together is the focus and not the divergences that can hamper collaboration and productivity.

Read on to learn about transitioning to a self-organizing workplace, written particularly for managers of diverse workgroups.

Learn More: Managing Effectively Across Countries and Cultures


The Benefits of a Self-Organizing Workplace


A self-organizing team can be described in a word as agile. They do not wait to be assigned work by a supervisor. Together they identify assignments that need to be completed, prioritize the tasks and manage timelines on their own. As such, they are highly capable of responding to unforeseen business disruptions, whether massive ones like the COVID pandemic or smaller issues like the failure of a key application.

Such a team has the advantages of:

1. Improved agility and increased speed of deliverables

An agile, self-organized team can quickly pivot since they do not rely on higher-ups for direction. They shift gears and hit deliverables in a timely fashion regardless of the circumstances.

2. Reduced project management resources

Since a self-organizing team assigns and tracks their own tasks, there is less need, if any, for a project manager to delegate tasks and manage timelines. This can equate to significant budgetary savings.

3. Heightened focus on work product quality

When a team decides together how to complete tasks, they are invested in the process and the final product. They are more likely to take feedback from co-workers, supervisors, clients, customers and partners to heart to improve protocols and deliverables.

4. Increased worker satisfaction

Workers who have more autonomy over their work in setting schedules and project timelines are motivated and engaged. This freedom to work in their preferred manner also bolsters personal accountability and therefore performance.

5. Orientation towards commonalities, not differences

A well-oiled, self-organizing machine of a team will keep their eyes on the prize. The work product and their common goals are what is important, not trivialities much less petty grievances. For a manager of a diverse group, this approach can be a breakthrough in getting the team on the same page.


Transitioning to a Self-Organizing Workplace


Here are five steps to initiate a self-organizing workplace.

1. Introductory Meeting

Kick off the process with a meeting that introduces what a self-organizing team is, what is expected of such a team and the benefits of it. Get their feedback on ways the team can be improved and what they might require to make the process work for them. Consider their receiving training in specific skills or coaching on certain methodologies.

As with any new initiative, there might be resistance to change. There are many ways to combat this, namely spelling out what is in it for them.

Learn More: Dealing with Resistance Change

2. Set Milestones

As the manager of a self-organizing team, you will not need to regularly oversee subordinates' work processes to ensure the quality and timeliness of deliverables. This is the ultimate goal. But you will get there in stages.

Set an implementation strategy that splits the team’s workload into actionable items that you can review upon completion. A worker’s internally-set deadlines can be discussed during one-on-one meetings. Your review and guidance should be phased out slowly.

The point here is that you cannot set up a team for success by introducing the concept of self-organization and then simply letting them go for it without oversight. But remember that excessive or prolonged supervision defeats the whole purpose of their becoming self-organizing, so find the right balance.

3. Facilitate communication

A self-governing team is only as good as their communication. They will need a reliable communication structure to give updates on progress, ask questions, receive assistance and provide feedback. Additionally, establish team meetings at regular intervals for transparency on the processes and clarity on expectations. Many self-organizing teams have weekly scrum meetings, for example.

4. Lean on their strengths

As you gain more experience with the self-organizing approach, keep an eye on which tasks leverage an individual’s strengths and ensure that they continue to complete these items. Find out which tasks they prefer to complete, too. Likely you will find that the ones they want to complete are the ones they are good at performing.

There are sure to be some unpopular tasks that nobody wishes to do. Ensure that the team is taking turns completing these items. A sign of a winning self-governing workgroup is when everything consistently gets completed, even the thankless or disliked work.

5. Regularly review and adjust protocols

Even after your team has proven themselves highly capable at self-organization, continue to check in on the protocols and adjust as necessary. Self-organization is a very fluid process that is sensitive to changes in circumstances and workers’ personalities. It will require ongoing calibrations at a strategic level to give the team what it needs to be truly self-organizing.


Actualizing a Self-Organizing Workplace


Free up your time as a manager by reducing your oversight of your reports’ tasks and timelines. Give them a sense of ownership of their work and pride in their work product. Do it all while smoothing out cultural differences.

You can lead your team to a self-organizing workplace, but you may need some help. Reach out to Priority Management for assistance with training and coaching. We are a diverse workgroup ourselves with offices around the world - find one near you!

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