22 tips for self-managing process teams

Self-managed Process-teams organisation (banner)

More than 2 years ago I illustrated through this blog how BPM / Lean versus self-managing teams go hand in hand. Lean’s “no blame” culture (among others explained in the X Lean principles) is a striking example of what you will clearly recognize in the tips below.

During the past summer months I have read some interesting books, the essence of which I would like to share with you. One of those books is “How to lead Self-Managing Teams” by Rini van Sollingen, which contains fairly practical tips for organizations that want to evolve towards self-management.

Based on those tips, I have – whenever possible and useful – added the process approach in blue. Hence the concept of self-managing process teams. Here they are:

1. Value: the only thing that counts – as a whole organization and/or team – are results that help the (both internal and external) customers, and which they value as a customer.

A business process must provide value for the customers (whoever they may be). Otherwise the business process has no reason to exist. Moreover, it is mainly on the basis of the final customer value that a process can be controlled and optimized.

2. Fast and regular delivery: usually (depending on the product or service) you better deliver the results quickly and regularly, as this makes customers happy. In addition, this enables customers to see the result in time and to check its quality. 

In addition, regularity brings a form of rhythm and structure. Then the customer knows when the next result can be expected.

In Agile this is known as the principle of “sprints”, where you deliver a part of the total solution and you do not wait until the end result is ready.

sprints

In Lean, this rather corresponds to the “one-piece-flow” principle. This video clearly illustrates what Lean’s one-piece flow is all about.

3. Immediate feedback: give feedback and thus reward, compliment – and/or encourage improvement – as quickly as possible. (Too) late feedback does not benefit the development of those people or teams that receive it.

Lean experts undoubtedly know the Andon” or “Andon cable” principle, as part of the Jidoka production system. Where even an entire production line is stopped immediately when an error is discovered.

But of course it is also about human-to-human feedback. And the ‘no blame’ culture of Lean fits in well with this, as it encourages people to give and receive feedback.

4. Clear and transparent goals: make clear what the (by customers) expected results are. But let the teams decide for themselves how to best achieve or exceed those goals or results.

In a process-oriented organisation, the people who contribute to a process execution should know very well what the process objectives and process outputs – or process results – are that the customers expect. 

ObjectivesA self-managing process team therefore ensures itself to continuously improve their activities and therefore the process based on objectives & goals.

5. Trust the people and the (self-managing process) teams. Do not doubt their commitment, competence, or their sense of effectiveness and efficiency.

You support self-managing process teams by providing techniques such as the competence matrix, as illustrated in this blog (point 12 for process redesign). And of course by providing the necessary budgets for training courses that they themselves find most relevant in order to guarantee “their” process results. 

6. Put your ego aside: do not use (any form of) power, but be available when people or teams consider it useful. Chasing people – let alone barking and threatening – are verbs that you have to remove from your vocabulary, but especially from your behavior and attitude.

The result is much more important than your own ego. As a manager – or serving leader – you get energy from motivated and independent teams, customer value and customer satisfaction, rather than from the result that you only claim for yourself.

Ego-tripping does not belong to exemplary process results, because it is about the result of teamwork, where meaning is more important than self-glorification. It is even the task of leaders to look after the ego of others, as explained in more detail in this blog (point 7).

7. No interference, but be alert and present: it can also be tempting as a “serving leader” to help teams proactively achieve their goals, though make sure you are not considered as a meddling person. Make it clear to the teams that you are always there to support them when needed.

For example, you could make it clear to teams that they can participate in (whether or not internal) training or coaching sessions – such as, for example, Kaizen – to learn how to improve their own performance. But if they themselves are not (yet) ready for it and do not make the decision themselves to follow a course, it will usually not be effective either.

Meddling

8. Continue to lead: don’t let your organization proceed to a “late do” culture, but determine – and monitor – frameworks within which the teams can use self-management.

As a manager, it’s the art of aligning process (team) objectives and results with the general / strategic objectives. As explained in this blog and in this one, including illustrative examples. Needless to emphasize that all self-managing process teams ideally know the “big picture”, and therefore know how they contribute to the ultimate success of the company. Some business architecture may be appropriate for this.

9. Expand the framework according to the maturity and growth of the teams: experienced teams that have demonstrated that they can work well in a self-managed way and that they are successful, deserve wider frameworks than young teams that still have to learn everything.

A process team with a significantly higher process maturity could, for example, grow into a process with more responsibility (e.g. a one with higher complexity or challenge).

10. Teams decide for themselves within the frameworks, but frameworks are there to be respected. Deviations can only be made when necessary, with the approval of the management or the coordination team.

Make-to-Oder-Stock

Imagine a process team that assembles components into a semi-finished product in a “build-to-order” company. Some orders are for a cheap variant of the semi-finished product, others are for the more expensive semi-finished product. However, the components are interchangeable, as it is only the material strength that differs.

If an inventory of cheaper components is used up by accident, the team could use exceptionally more expensive components. However, if it has been agreed “within framework” that cheap components should always be used for the cheaper semi-finished product, then the management must give its approval. Because otherwise the profit for the company becomes difficult to maintain.

11. People learn by doing: experiment to (learn to) evolve into a strong self-managing organization. The best and fastest learning school is practice. More, but smaller, teams are usually the fastest way to a successful self-managing organization and also the best learning school.

Suppose the business process is such that the process team is or becomes too large – e.g. 11 team members – then you can try to divide the process into 2 sub-processes. This is of course only possible if the 1st sub-process also produces a concrete (intermediate) output. Otherwise it will be difficult to focus on results.

12. Focus on the result, not how it is achieved. Do not focus on any “poor process progress”. It may sound strange or uncomfortable to a process-oriented manager, but how their process is organized is their business.

This is a potential pitfall for experienced process-oriented managers and good process managers. Because it is very tempting to give unsolicited advice to (help) improve the team’s process.

13. Do not interfere with rituals either. Let the teams decide for themselves whether – and how – they use their own habits, principles and methods.

For example, if they use daily scrums, or continuous improvement methods, etc. – or not – this is not your business is a leader. You can suggest this without obligation, but then at the request of the process team itself.

Ritual

14. Keep out of it, but stay attentive. So keep yourself under control, so as not to intervene with regard to how teams work, but of course be alert to the result and quality. If results are insufficient, then you should definitely challenge the teams to do better. In this case, you need to help – challenge them – to improve their process. Then you actually have a reason for it.

Self-steering does not mean that everyone does what he or she wants. Even if you focus (especially) on results, then you can do this thoroughly and play “short.”

This is not only about the quality of a process output, but also about the quantity that is produced in a certain time span. Because if the customer has to pay significantly more due to inefficiencies, this will in any case decrease the final customer satisfaction.

15. Learn step by step. Help the teams learn step by step, preferably by asking questions (in a Socratic way) so that the teams find answers and solutions themselves. Because of this, there is a good chance that they are 100% behind “their decision”.

If a team cannot yet handle its responsibility for results, reduce the framework. This is, as it were, the reverse of point 9 above.

If a self-managing process team is expected to deliver a rather complex output, then you could, for example, follow more closely between products or between results, and not just the end result.

16. Inspire confidence. Trust that the teams want to work hard and strive for the very best result. When results are below expectations, do not blame the team, but look for the obstacles that stand in their way to achieve the results.

Trust

If you determine – thanks to the short follow-up – lower than expected results, then you are best to challenge the team by, for example, suggesting the application of Kaizen according to the same Socratic approach.

17. Search for the root-cause. Teams often (too) easily deal with symptom control – e.g. out of concern for the short-term results. Help them to distance themselves from the problems in a timely manner so that they discover and remedy the root cause of problems. 

Indeed, structural process improvements sometimes require more time than a quick response to symptoms, which does not solve the real problem in the longer term.

If, as a leader, you notice something like this, you can, for example, suggest the 5-whys approach or the like.

18. Help make communication lines and feedback loops as short as possible. The quicker the communication between team members, and the sharper the view is on what value a team should deliver to their customers – including the end customer -, the greater the chance of better results. 

As a leader – or as a member of the coordination team – it is your job to streamline communication between the teams, end-to-end, including any complaints or dissatisfaction of customers ; regardless of whether they are internal or external customers.

19. Encourage a “Continuous Improvement” culture in each team. Even when they achieve the results smoothly, they will be all the more motivated when they can surpass them.

Even when a team achieves the intended results, it can be challenged to do even better, possibly accompanied by (extra) rewards. Or you can build in something like gradual performance levels, so that you can always improve, and so that there is a permanent challenge to continuously improve.

20. Welcome criticism, even though this can sometimes be hurtful to yourself. Nobody is perfect and everyone can keep improving themselves. So embrace all feedback and improvement opportunities that ultimately may lead to even better results.

Critics

If there is already a “no-blame” culture in your organization, as it should be when it is exemplary Lean or process-oriented, then this would no longer mean total renewal.

21. Pass on the compliments. How altruistic this may sound … if your organization delivers fairly good results, then it is thanks to your teams who have worked hard. That is why they deserve the credit for their work.

Moreover, it is especially when it goes less well that your role as a manager or leader is important.

For self-managing process teams it is simple: encourage and compliment all initiatives that lead to positive process results. Challenge the teams when you see the opposite.

22. Start the cultural change to self-managing process teams yourself. Putting your ego aside, complimenting your teams on good results, not interfering with the process within agreed frameworks, etc. means a real culture shift for managers who are used to (more) hierarchical forms of management. But that change is nevertheless essential for a successful organization with solid staff involvement and highly motivated employees.

Write your questions, opinion or experience regarding self-managing (process) teams in the Comments box below.

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