Story of a “Self-Directed” Work Team” 

Some time ago I worked in a self-directed work team. Our manager had accepted a position at another company, and our company was not ready to replace him. As a group we thrived under our own "leadership." We were all very mature in our positions and required very little guidance or assistance in doing what we did. We became one of the benchmarks for our industry and launched several innovative processes within the industry that are now benchmarked internationally.

With that being said, even though we had no "leader," we did have someone who kept us on track and made any final decisions if the group could not come to a consensus. The great thing was that this position rotated almost effortlessly through the group as well! Depending on the circumstances, the person with the least vested interest in the project became the leader/facilitator of the project without even having to be assigned. The more objective person always seemed to step up and take the reigns without having to be asked. This was the major reason for our successes. We knew almost intuitively who should lead the project and who should be the "worker."

We have split up since then and the group now doing what we did is struggling under the leadership that eventually replaced our manager. With one person specifically in charge, the creativity of the work group has greatly decreased. They will never recapture the chemistry that our group had for leading/facilitating ourselves.

I believe groups like ours are unique and rarely found. Once found they must be used to their fullest extent.

What does it take to build and run a team like this? Below, Tim shares some of the operating standards they used to develop and maintain this successful self-directed team.

Operating Standards for a Self-Directed work team

1. We didn't do anything that doesn't hold up under public scrutiny.

2. We vowed to not withhold bad news from upper management. Bad news is generally filtered out as information travels upward in an organization and leads to communication barriers and resultant problems down the road.

3. We defined "Ineffectiveness" as fatal timidity to act when an opportunity presented itself. We strove to overcome our ineffectiveness.

4. We did our best to speak our truth as gently as possible. If you always tell the truth you never have to remember what you said.

5. We overcame our need for individual approval and accolades, doing our best to see everyone of equal value and importance. One person, a first among equals, was usually assigned the power to make a final decision. This role changed easily as dictated by the situation and was based on passion, interest, and expertise. There is no end to what we can achieve if we are not concerned with who gets the credit.

6. We developed a culture that made sharing anything OK. So we often shared and acted on our gut feelings. These were seldom wrong.

7. .We never blind sided anyone. We always had a thorough pre brief before briefings so that management always knew what was going to be shared, which developed their trust in us.

8. We developed means to entertain healthy conflict and differing points of view using three-point communication. This meant allowing or encouraging a devil's advocate point of view and a neutral third party to keep the debate healthy.

9. We practiced what we preached and coached each other do operate out of integrity and to be accountable to the standards we espoused.

10. We performed team building activities within our group to maintain and grow our team. We would also debrief each other to validate senses and perceptions about what went on in the group.

About the Author

Steve Davis, M.A., M.S., is a Facilitator's Coach, Infoprenuer, and free-lance human, helping facilitators, organizational leaders, educators, trainers, coaches and consultants present themselves confidently, access their creativity, empower their under-performing groups, enhance their facilitation skills, and build their business online and offline. Does leading or participating in groups frustrate you? Subscribe to his free weekly ezine at Contact him at or 760-375-7384 to schedule a free exploratory coaching session.

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