Team-building tip: Let self-managing groups thrive

team buildingIneffectual team leaders often double as micromanagers. They overfacilitate team meetings, set lots of needlessly rigid rules and give detailed instructions on how to proceed.

Enlightened leaders, by contrast, build more productive groups by backing off. Consultants often refer to “self-managing” teams as the optimal structure for maximizing collaboration.

To develop a self-managing team, start by limiting your demands and requirements. Instead, pose open-ended questions so that the group can grapple with setting its own rules.

Examples of questions you can ask:

  • What do you think is a reasonable time frame to accomplish this?
  • How do you envision next steps?
  • What can go wrong?
  • What are your contingency plans?

You need not accept the team’s ­an­­swers as gospel. Look for opportu­nities to coach members to rethink their assumptions and sharpen their analysis.

Draw clear lines of authority so that the team knows its boundaries. Ideally, you want to delegate as much decision-making power as possible to the group. When people know in precise terms what actions they can take on their own, they’re more likely to accept responsibility and act with confidence.

Even if you suspect that the team will make a misguided decision, stay silent. Letting groups learn from mistakes gives them valuable experience.

Self-managing teams benefit from continual input. Create ongoing feedback mechanisms (like monthly surveys) so that everyone can critique the unit’s performance, identify concerns and suggest ways that you can lead more effectively.

— Adapted from “9 roles of a team leader,” Vadim Kotelnikov,