Week 8: Self-Managed Teams and the Pursuit of Wow!

The fact that this chapter on self-managed teams wrapped up The Pursuit of Wow! reminds me how much the business world has changed since this book was published over 20 years ago. Since that time, self-managed teams have become the norm in so many workplaces. It is interesting to see Peters discuss them as if they are controversial. What he did well with this closing chapter is the same thing he is known for in all of his writing…pointing out simple truths in a simple way that somehow help his readers wake up and see something new.

Peters points out that nearly all employees are well positioned to accept the task of self-management. He indicates that many managers like to think their contribution to the operation of their unit is irreplaceable. In fact, managing a team isn’t terribly different than the way that most people manage the affairs of their lives. Here are a few examples:

  • Long-term View: Most workers understand thinking long-term, as demonstrated by their willingness to make a 30 year investment in the purchase of a home. Show me a manager taking a 30 year view of their department’s operations.
  • Trade-offs: Every family has to make decisions about complex trade-offs all the time when they make personal choices about where their money should be spent. Do you save money for a vacation or invest in buying a more reliable car? Retirement vs. college savings?
  • Eliminate Job Descriptions: Detailed, written guidance does not exist for most of what we encounter every day. We solve problems, make progress, work together, and move forward toward our goals.
  • Manage a Budget: Living within a budget is understood by most responsible adults. Don’t over-complicate this function in a team.
  • Projects: Life is not a series of repetitive tasks, it is closer to a set of projects that we complete concurrently.

And yet, 20+ years later self-managed teams are still a topic of popular business conversation. Take the 2014 article in Inc. magazine titled “Why Self-Managed Teams are the Future of Business” Chuck Blakeman makes a similar case to the one Peters made in 1994. He points to the following lessons:

  • Ownership: The organization that inspires a sense of ownership by its employees has achieved something great where motivation will likely be maximized.
  • Empowerment: When employees are empowered to make decisions, companies tend to grow faster, have less turnover and are more profitable.
  • Simple, Not Easy: Changing from a “boss knows best” model to an “employees know best” model is hard for everyone. We’ve been doing it the other way for a long time.

The case that is being made is essentially the same…giving a group of people clear goals and supporting them as they determine the best way to get there usually results in a better product or service than if the manager tried to drive every detail of the process themselves. Having diverse teams positions them for success, as they can rely on each other to help solve the complex problems they face. Peters would argue that they already have the skills they need to make self-management work.

What do you think? Are you ready to yield your control as manager and trust the collective decision-making of a self-managed team?



Blakeman, C. (2014, November 25). Why self-managed teams are the future of business. Inc. Retreived online at http://www.inc.com/chuck-blakeman/why-self-managed-teams-are-the-future-of-business.html.