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Five Common Misconceptions About Self-directed Teams

December 1, 1993
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Here are five common misconceptions:

  1. Self-directed teams do not need leaders.
    Because the phrase "self-directed teams" conjures up a leaderless group, many organizations mistakenly have assumed that leaders and managers no longer are necessary when the organization makes the move to teams. But there is a definite need for some type of leader—or coach or facilitator—to transfer what traditionally has been leadership responsibility to these team members. The role of leaders changes substantially with teams, but they still have a part to play.
  2. Leaders lose power in the transition to teams.
    Many managers think of power as a zero-sum game. That is, if employees have more power through self-directed teams, then the managers must have less. But power is an expandable and flexible resource. Instead of exercising power inwardly to control people, leaders of self-directed teams should turn their power outward and use it to break down barriers in the organization that prevent the team from being effective. Leaders can make things happen in the organization by helping to influence top management, suppliers—even customers. With self-directed teams, leaders don't necessarily lose power, but they must exercise it differently.
  3. Newly formed teams are automatically self-directing.
    Newly formed teams aren't self-directed, nor will they be for some time. Team development is evolutionary, and describing new teams as self-directed may establish unrealistic expectations.
  4. Employees are waiting for the opportunity to be empowered.
    Not everyone will welcome the empowering effect of self-directed teams. Some consultants have estimated that 25% to 30% of working Americans—regardless of their position in the organization—don't want to be empowered; they simply don't want any more responsibility than they already have.
  5. If you group employees in a team structure, they will function as a team, and the organization will reap the benefits of teamwork.
    Unfortunately, it doesn't happen this way. Groups must go through some developmental process to begin to function as teams. To begin, team members need training in such areas as group problem solving, goal setting and conflict resolution.

Personnel Journal, December 1993, Vol. 72, No.12 p. 81.

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