A Guide to Self-Directed Teams' Advantages and Disadvantages

Updated March 18, 2023

Self-directed teams are an alternative way for organizations to ensure they complete projects and other business processes. These teams don't typically follow the traditional practice of working and completing tasks under the supervision of a team leader or manager. Learning about the advantages and disadvantages of a self-directed team can help you decide if it's a suitable alternative for a business process or project. In this article, we highlight self-directed teams' advantages and disadvantages and provide tips to help you create and ensure their success.

What are self-directed teams' advantages and disadvantages?

When you understand self-directed teams' advantages and disadvantages, you can decide if forming one is suitable for a particular project. Self-directed teams are groups of employees who combine their skills and talents without a team manager's supervision or influence. Similar to teams that a manager oversees, a self-directed team works toward achieving a company's set goals and objectives. The number of employees in a self-directed team varies from five to 25. As managerial supervision is absent, a self-directed team's members make project decisions and handle challenges as they arise. An organization's management can equip these teams to work productively.

Related: Self-Management Skills (Definition and Tips Included)

Advantages of self-directed teams

Here are the benefits an organization may enjoy by creating self-directed teams:

Creates a greater sense of satisfaction

As a set leadership standard doesn't restrict members of a self-directed team, they have the liberty to make decisions they feel may benefit the company or project. This can increase these employees' job satisfaction, as they feel trusted to make important decisions. Those working as part of a self-directed team may also experience a greater sense of accomplishment when the project is complete, as they likely feel more responsible for its success than if they'd received extensive direction from a manager.

Related: Creating a Sense of Accomplishment at Work (Plus Importance)

Ensures accountability

Employees working in a self-directed team typically have more individual accountability for a project's progress and success than a regular manager-led team. If the self-directed team is small, employees may work harder to ensure the project's success because they want to earn their manager's trust in their abilities, which generally increases productivity and results in high quality work. Offering team members greater individual accountability typically facilitates the delivery of better and faster results.

Facilitates the effective use of skills

Members of a self-directed team are typically more likely to leverage their skills and expertise to ensure the fast completion of a project than a manager-led team. This is because the members of self-directed teams are often experts within their niche. In a self-directed team, employees can easily handle tasks they're skilled at without waiting for a manager's directives.

For example, an organization may form a self-directed team of marketing and advertising experts to manage the launch of a new product. Designing effective advertising campaigns is easier because the team members have the relevant skills and experience to complete their individual tasks effectively. Team members in this group structure might meet to assign individual roles, and then work independently on their assigned tasks without the support of a manager or other group members. Working autonomously, they may each be responsible for a specific social media channel, or developing different types of media to use for the campaign.

Encourages intuitive freedom

Employees in self-directed teams typically have the ability to take the initiative without waiting for instructions or permission. This helps eliminate limitations in team members' ability to propose solutions from the ideas they build. The freedom to be intuitive also enables these employees to handle situations promptly and avoid project disruptions or delays.

Related: Comparing Intuitive Thinker vs. Analytical Thinker

Increases employee engagement

Self-directed teams often include every team member in decision-making process. These teams can complete projects by brainstorming ideas and considering every member's opinions. Employees are likely to have a vested interest in the decision's outcomes when they're directly involved in business decisions, which typically increases employee participation and engagement. These employees are more likely to work harder to achieve desirable outcomes in the long term.

Related: How to Increase Employee Engagement (Short Term and Long Term)

Reduces the need for oversight

Self-directed teams can complete projects without direct supervision, creating time for a company's management team to focus on other critical tasks. For example, a business owner may decide to create a self-directed team to manage the company's marketing and advertising departments. As the business owner doesn't typically participate in marketing meetings and strategy developments, they can focus on other business aspects, such as client relations or budgeting.

Fosters better decision making

Self-directed teams are more likely to have a better decision-making process because they involve every team member. When the work environment encourages equality and treats every team member respectfully, they may be more willing to offer their input. For example, a team member may be comfortable discussing a concern the others didn't consider. This creates an opportunity for the team to discuss ideas thoroughly before making any important decision.

Reduces costs

An organization can save on resources by creating self-directed teams. This is often because these teams can function without supervision, helping the company save the money necessary to hire and train more managers. Consequently, creating self-directed teams enables the company to allocate these saved resources to other projects and business aspects.

Disadvantages of self-directed teams

Here are some limitations organizations may encounter when forming or operating with a self-directed team:

Limits innovation

In a self-directed team, members may develop a hive mind or an unintentional bias. In such cases, they may not welcome unique ideas and suggestions. This typically limits opportunities for valuable creativity and innovation. For example, a self-directed team may work on a project to design a speciality product. Later, they may continue designing products with similar features and aesthetics rather than of welcoming new ideas and creating new designs that may be more appealing to the consumer. An organization can improve this by adding people with diverse perspectives or periodically rotating team members.

Causes self-motivation to decline

For a self-driven team to thrive and ensure project success, it's essential for the members to be self-motivated and work well with others. Depending on employees' preferences and skills, it may be challenging to create a team with such traits from a company's existing employees. A company can overcome this challenge by recruiting new employees with the right skill sets to create a self-directed team or by training existing employees to adjust to a self-directed team environment.

Related: A Guide to Self-Motivation in the Workplace

Lengthens the decision-making process

As a self-directed team involves every team member in the decision-making process, it may make the process longer. This is because an individual is likelier to make a decision faster than a group of people do. It may take more time for every member of a self-directed team to come to an agreement that everyone acknowledges. These delays might pose a problem when a quick decision is necessary. To simplify the decision-making process, a self-directed team can implement a decision-making system, such as voting, to make the process more efficient.

Related: Understanding the Process of Decision-Making in Management

Decreases role awareness

Within a self-directed team, some members may feel inclined to lead, while others may not. With no defined leadership system in these teams, some team members may be unclear about what their precise roles within the team are. This can cause conflicts, miscommunications, and disruptions to projects. To prevent this, organizations can work toward establishing leadership positions within the teams before the project commencement, which may help avoid any confusion.

Related: How to Boost Leadership Skills through Self-Awareness

Increases the cost of training

Organizations can increase the efficiency of self-directed teams by organizing training sessions for team members. Team members can develop their skills with this training, including the soft and hard skills necessary to thrive in a self-directed team. This may result in higher training costs for the organization. The company may also recruit new hires when creating these teams, resulting in higher hiring costs.

Tips for creating a self-directed team

Here are the best practices you can follow when creating a self-directed team:

  • Select team members carefully. When creating a self-directed team, evaluate employees' traits, such as sociability and expertise, before considering them. This helps ensure you select members capable of working together in a team.

  • Provide team members with resources. When establishing a self-directed team, you can increase employees' productivity by providing them with the resources necessary to complete their duties. You can also brief them on the set goals and team members' responsibilities to help provide clarity.

  • Build trust within the team. You can create a positive environment where team members can thrive by building trust within the team. With trust, a self-directed team can properly communicate and adjust to other team members.


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