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Five Tips for a Successful Transition to Self-Managed Teams

by Danielle N. Paula, Technical Assent consultant

Part Three of a three-part series

With 80% of Fortune 1000 companies reportedly now using self-managed teams in an Agile environment, you may be thinking that the traditional top-down, command-and-control organizational hierarchies may become extinct – and with good reason. There are several advantages to employing self-managed teams in an Agile environment over the traditional hierarchy structure including increased employee satisfaction, lower overhead costs, and increased stakeholder buy-in.

While you may have read previous articles about organizations successfully employing self-managed teams, it’s important to note that their success doesn’t happen overnight. There are several hurdles that can stand in your way, not only in making the transition, but also in ensuring that teams are successful once the transition is made. To be successful, you need to be willing to lay the proper foundation and be ready to actively engage throughout the transition and after. Whether you are just starting the transition or are already part of a self-managed team, here are five tips to help set your teams up for success.

1. Make Sure You Are Reorganizing for the Right Reasons

It’s not an uncommon occurrence for a CEO to determine that the company needs to reorganize into self-managed teams without understanding the real motivations behind it. There are lots of studies, anecdotes, and statistics which promote the benefits of self-managed teams like faster time to market, increased profits, and lower overhead. While this may be true, leaders need to set realistic, measurable goals before engaging in a reorganization. You’ll also need to make sure you revisit and reassess these goals often to ensure your teams are always properly aligned.

2. Communicate Early and Often

Ensure that management is involved from the get go. Start talking about the transition and take steps to set expectations. Leave yourself time between announcing the shift to its actual implementation. This will open the door to employee questions and answers, which greatly eases uncertainty (especially among managers who may find themselves taking on different roles in this new structure). If you’ve already made the transition, commit to regular open communication with employees including timely updates of the organization’s goals and visions. It’s extremely important for employees to understand organizational and project goals, as well as the context around it. Create an open-door policy with leaders so that employees can ask clarifying questions and share any frustrations related to working in a self-managed team. This will not only let employees create better work products but also let them know that it is natural to have growing pains. The open communication can also facilitate opportunities for improvements.

3.  Hire a Professional Agile Re-Org Consultant

If you have never been through an organizational transition or feel the need for expert advice to ease the transition, hiring an expert can be invaluable.. It’s inherently natural for employees to fear change. Professional Agile consultants are used to creating and working with self-managed teams. They can help show you and your employees that change isn’t so scary. A consultant can meet with leaders to delve into the “why” and “how” behind the move to self-managed teams. They’ll also be able to facilitate group exercises, focus groups, Q&A sessions, and help draft communications providing a path forward that works for your organization.

4. Use 360-Degree Feedback to Garner Employee Buy-In

Engage all employees in the reorganization process by holding focus groups or discussion panels to help influence the way the teams are created. Also solicit feedback from employees about what they like about their current positions. Ask if it make sense for the teams to be project based, goal based, or even functionally based. Evaluate if there are areas in the organization that lack expertise or support and build them up with the reorganization process. Encourage team members to provide open and honest, constructive feedback to their team members regularly to improve collaboration and work products. Gathering input from employees shows that they are valuable assets to the organization.

Engaging employees in the reorganization process and trusting them to make decisions that would directly impact the organization, communicates that they are valued by the organization. When employees feel valued, they will reciprocate by contributing more to the organization (ex., best work and ideas).

Opower, which I talked about in <Part Two> of this series, used this 360-Degree Feedback approach in a team self-selection process. Originally, they assumed that each team would be assigned one front-end and one back-end developer to carry out the work. When they initially had issues getting the right number of people with the right skills on each team, they asked employees for feedback. Specifically, they asked: “Why did you choose the team you’re on now?” Through this approach, they found that their developers were more interested in growing their knowledge set and learning full-stack development instead of sticking with just front-end or just back-end development. This feedback provided much needed insight into why employees picked their team which ultimately helped further structure the projects teams to meet both the employee and company goals. Furthermore, it increased the employees’ overall satisfaction with the process and the team they ended up with.

5. Educate Employees on Self-Management

There is often a transition period where employees will doubt that they are truly not reporting to a manager and are responsible for their own work. Some employees may have difficulty transitioning from a task-directed environment to the self-managed environment. This applies to all employees no matter their seniority or position within the company. Managers may find themselves in a new role where they are no longer micro-managing the employees and must learn to give up control and trust that they hired smart, talented people to carry out the job that will provide the intended results. Previously task-directed employees will need to now work within a team to define what and how work is done to meet the company goals and objectives. They will also need to make sure they can manage their work priorities on their own without a manager specifically laying it out for them.

Consider holding training sessions with employees to teach them self-managed work best practices. This will give them the power of knowledge and necessary tools to be successful in the new self-managed structure.


Remember that change is not easy and successful self-managed teams are not created overnight. It will take hard work, dedication, and a lot of time to even implement a change let alone ensure it runs efficiently and effectively. Though it can be time consuming, if done correctly, your organization can get back that time and more due to the benefits of self-managed teams like increased efficiency, higher employee satisfaction, and better quality work products. Also know that while you may have some bumps, you are joining many other organizations that have already made the transition and found it greatly successful for not only the organization, but also their employees, and customers.

This article is Part Three of a three-part series.

Part One: Do We Really Need Managers? Making the Case for Self-Managed Teams

Part Two: Are Self-Managed Teams Right for Your Organization?

two people working on design project

Are Self-Managed Teams Right for Your Organization?

by Danielle N. Paula, Technical Assent consultant

Part Two of a three-part series

Last week, we covered the differences between traditionally managed organizations and organizations using self-managed teams. Now, let’s dive deeper into some of the specific benefits of running self-managed teams, as well as some of the disadvantages.

Benefits of Self-Managed Teams

Benefit 1: Increased Employee Satisfaction

Employees who work on self-managed teams report a higher level of job satisfaction than those in task-directed, top-down management models. Self-managed teams promote ownership and direct involvement. In Chuck Blakeman’s TED Talk “The Emerging Work World in the Participation Age” he discusses why self-managed teams improve employee satisfaction:

“…[people] won’t put up with just having a job, stripped of its humanity. They actually want work, not a job, because work is meaningful. A job only pays the bills. In the participation age, people will work because they can make meaning at work, not just money. Self-managed teams [are] one great way to do that.”

Benefit 2: Higher Productivity and Lower Overhead Costs

A Cornell University case study on the economic costs and benefits of self-managed teams found that self-managed teams were able to complete work in 60-70% less time than working in a traditional hierarchy. The study also found significant cost savings on indirect management oversight costs of up to 75%. These types of savings can be applied directly back into the business to fuel its growth. The savings could be used to employ more teams, provide better salaries and benefits, or invested into the expansion of new and innovative products or markets.

Benefit 3: Direct Information Touch Points

Working in self-managed teams in a flat structure encourages the dissemination of information directly from the business leaders to the team. Leaders often speak directly to teams about the organization’s goals and objectives and encourage questions and feedback. Messages that must go through several chains of command are often inflated, deflated, or mischaracterized, ultimately leading to misinformation. Implementing this type of direct communication can decrease the risk of spreading misinformation and reduces the time it takes to travel to employees. Direct communication also provides better contextual clues for the employee. This supports clearer understanding which leads to more informed decision making.

Benefit 4: Stakeholder Buy-In

Self-managed teams focus on turning employees into stakeholders and managers into leaders. Making this conscious transition strengthens employees’ connection to the mission of the organization. For example, at the recent Business Agility Conference, O2 Agility shared their experiment of using the self-selection process to reorganize their self-managed teams at Opower. Employees were asked to assign themselves to the project they wanted to work on most. Not only were all the teams easily formed in one afternoon with all of the skills necessary for execution, but they also found that 40% of participants chose their team because it was what was best for the company, not what was best for themselves. In addition, 88% of participants reported they were satisfied with the team they ended up on and no one said they were dissatisfied.

Benefit 5: Empowerment to Make Decisions

When employees are empowered to make decisions, it can have a direct effect on the organization’s bottom line. In self-managed teams, employees are trusted to use their judgement instead of pushing information up and down a chain of command for approvals. By eliminating the necessity for elevating issues through several management channels, solutions can be implemented more efficiently and effectively.

Fast turnaround can be particularly important in customer service departments. You’ve probably had at least one frustrating call with a customer service call center, where a complaint had to go through several levels of management before a resolution was found. The speed at which a dispute is resolved can directly impact the customer’s perception of the organization and lead to the loss of expansion of its customer base.

As an example, Dave Carroll, a Canadian singer/songwriter, found that after taking a flight on United Airlines that his beloved guitar was broken in transit. United Airlines shuffled his claims requests around for more than six months without providing a resolution. In response, Dave took to YouTube and recorded a trilogy of songs: “United Breaks Guitars”, “United Breaks Guitars 2”, and “United Breaks Guitars 3”.

These three videos combined have over 19 million views on YouTube. Dave Carroll even has a page on his website dedicated to the issue. United eventually contacted Dave and offered to pay him to take down the videos. Imagine the outcome if the United service representative was empowered to resolve the issue when the incident was first reported.

Disadvantages of Self-Managed Teams

While there are lots of benefits to self-managed teams, they are not without their disadvantages. Here are a few.

Disadvantage 1: Employees must be Self-Motivated

The number one assumption an organization must make when adopting self-managed teams is that all employees can and are self-motivated and want to be self-managed. This means that the employee must have the drive and discipline to take on the necessary work without much direction. These types of employees are self-starters that can be trusted to accomplish organization and team goals without much supervision. They need to be comfortable with not having a clearly defined SOP or way forward to complete a task often developing the solution themselves.

While there are plenty of people that have these qualities, there are also plenty without. Organizations will need to carefully evaluate the people they hire to ensure they have these qualities. Additionally, team members should be encouraged to provide 360 feedback on each other’s performance to identify if team members are disengaged or not adequately supporting the team.

Disadvantage 2: Groupthink

Being self-managed can sometimes lead to “groupthink” where team members are at risk of going along with the majority instead of conducting thorough evaluations of proposed plans and solutions. Teams can combat this by encouraging team members to ask “Why?” SEMCO, a successful Brazilian manufacturing company, encourages their employees to fearlessly ask “why?” SEMCO believes that encouraging employees to ask “why?” encourages them to think thoroughly and creatively which leads to the best results for the organization as a whole.

Disadvantage 3: Not Suitable for Large Teams

Self-managed teams work best when they are small. The generally accepted team size usually falls between four and 13 people. Teams don’t work well when there are too many people. This increases bureaucracy and slows down the decision processes. Think about meetings or working groups you’ve participated in, in the past. Did you make well-analyzed decisions more quickly when there were five people or 30 people? The more team members you have the more communication paths are opened. If your organization requires larger teams to come together to make decisions, you may need managerial input to direct and manage the decision process or risk that the large self-managed teams will slow down the process and decrease productivity.


Removing managers and creating self-managed teams within an organization can be a great way to increase employee engagement and increase the organization’s efficiency. While there are disadvantages to this type of organization structure, with the right implementation, the benefits far outweigh them.

Next week, I’ll be covering some tips for making the transition to self-managed teams.

Part One: Do We Really Need Managers? Making the Case for Self-Managed Teams.

Press release



March 15, 2017

Washington, D.C. — Technical Assent, a leading provider of Experience Design, Solution Implementation, and Service Management solutions, announced today that it has been appraised at Level 3 of the CMMI Institute’s Capability Maturity Model Integration for Services (CMMI-SVC)®. The appraisal was performed independently by Williamsburg Process Solutions LLC.

CMMI is a capability improvement framework that provides organizations with the essential elements of effective processes that ultimately improve their performance. Organizations at maturity Level 3 demonstrate processes that are well characterized and understood, and are described in standards, procedures, tools, and methods. The organization’s set of standard processes is established and improved over time.

Technical Assent’s CEO, John DiLuna, noted:

“Program Managers have always relied on us to provide high quality results to their mission and business challenges. With the CMMI-SVC certification, we can provide increased confidence that Technical Assent’s solutions will be delivered consistently and efficiently especially during periods of transition and change”

As government agencies strive to become more service-oriented, government’s customers increasingly demand services that are relevant and deliver better outcomes. Technical Assent uses the practices of human-centered design and principles of CMMI-SVC to focus agencies on what matters most to their customers and reliably deliver those results.

About Technical Assent

Headquartered in Arlington, VA, Technical Assent is a leading provider of Experience Design, Solution Implementation, and Service Management solutions for government agencies. At Technical Assent, we believe government begins at the bottom — with the people it serves. That’s why we explore the customer experience first and use that knowledge to improve systems, processes and service across the organization. Technical Assent, LLC is a Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB). Click here to learn more about Technical Assent’s Service Delivery capabilities.

About CMMI® Institute

CMMI Institute ( is the global leader in the advancement of best practices in people, process, and technology. The Institute provides the tools and support for organizations to benchmark their capabilities and build maturity by comparing their operations to best practices and identifying performance gaps. For over 25 years, thousands of high-performing organizations in a variety of industries, including aerospace, finance, health services, software, defense, transportation, and telecommunications, have earned a CMMI maturity level rating and proved they are capable business partners and suppliers.


improving patient experience is key to improving healthcare

3 Ways to Improve Healthcare Outcomes by Following the Patient Experience

Consider all the touchpoints between a patient and a hospital for a single doctor visit – scheduling the appointment, receiving an appointment reminder, navigating endless hallways, filling out forms and waiting, maybe more waiting, seeing the nurse – then the doctor – then the nurse, then stopping at pharmacy, billing, and insurance. Healthcare professionals and patients likely view these experiences quite differently – what the hospital may view as an efficient workflow to maintain consistent quality of care for hundreds of patients, patients may process as redundant, glitchy, or even careless.

The medical community has long been committed to patient outcomes as the primary metric for measuring quality of care. Patient Experience, however, includes interactions with medical and non-medical staff; all the processes, policies, and business rules; and the digital media and mobile technology they encounter along the way. These concepts of Outcomes & Experience are not mutually exclusive; however the question remains as to the extent to which patient experience can directly influence patient outcomes. Here are three examples of the direct impact of a patient-centered approach.

Improve Satisfaction by 20%. In the highly interactive exchanges among the medical staff and patient, most medical professionals will do anything to make a patient’s stay as comfortable as possible. The challenge for the medical institution becomes how to maintain that same perception of care as the patient moves through the more business-oriented functions of the organization.

Increase Employee Engagement by 20-30%. Patients are keenly sensitive to discontinuity in their experience and have an innate sense for when organizations deliver stove-piped services. When seeking out opportunities to improve, Patient Experience provides a unique vantage point to create a dialogue among stove-piped departments about how to make things better. It offers a lens by which to view the convergence of talent, tools, and technology (regardless of who owns the asset) as they come together at a specific touchpoint to add value for a patient.

Lower Cost to Serve by 15-20%. Despite their intrinsic value, the two points above may be insufficient to convince Administrators to invest in improving the patient experience. This approach makes several strategic and economic contributions – understanding the Patient Experience helps us understand what is really important to patients and, equally, what is not. This enables targeted investments that are tied to business outcomes such as efficient service delivery, workforce productivity, and a more competitive cost structure.

Revisiting the Doctrine of Completed Staff Work

Early in my career, a respected boss and mentor left an article on my desk about the doctrine of “Completed Staff Work.” The author’s thoughts on followership were presented in a memorandum from the early 1940s and present a relatively straightforward concept;when presenting a solution, the only remaining action should be approval or disapproval of the completed action. Your views should be placed before the decision maker in finished form so they can use them to achieve results.
While the language of the original version appears a bit crass (I have included it below for its dramatic effect) by today’s standards, it is largely accepted as appropriate guidance for staff-level professionals and appears to be equally entrenched in both military, government, and commercial best practice. If otherwise inappropriate, the tone certainly reflects the frustration and exasperation of the author, a senior military officer, at the moment he put pen to paper and fits into the hierarchical military structure of World War II.

In my particular case, we were not at war, per se, but I guess my boss was equally frustrated with the amount of additional research and rework that was needed in order for him to make a confident decision. The article was a subtle way of educating the staff into a change in behavior. Unfortunately, the article never sat well with me. Instead of the intended effect, it only served as a reminder of the formal power relationship between a supervisor and subordinate. The challenges we faced were too big for any one of us to handle so we naturally faced them as a team. To suddenly be reminded of my place in the organization was not the kind of empowerment I become accustomed to and I was left feeling that the doctrine was severely out of touch with our reality. But as I reflect back on the experience, I wonder if we can recast the principles of this forlong doctrine to teach the trained initiative that is highly regarded but apply it to today’s team- oriented atmosphere.

Let’s start with the basic premise that a) everyone is busy, b) resources are tight and c) our team trusts us because of our knowledge, experience, and expertise. We were hired to shoulder the responsibilities expected of our position. Even if the decision- making authority formally resides somewhere else on the team, that person or group is relying on us to provide a recommendation for how to proceed as if it were our decision to make. To present a recommendation, the following objectives must first be met:

      • The issues are clearly articulated in a fair, balanced way.
      • Issues are thoroughly analyzed including internal and external influences.
      • Several alternatives have been considered.
      • The solution is complete. It accounts for resources, staffing, time, & risk.
      • The recommendation has been coordinated with stakeholders.
      • The final product is prepared in final form for signature and requires simple approval.


The figure below outlines a process for meeting these objectives in a logical framework. If we expect someone to make a decision, this format helps them understand the full context, complexity, and impact of the decision at hand.



If this process is followed, the goal for the final presentation is to formally walk the decision-maker through the thought process. We are well-equipped to respond to leadership questions and concerns and with practice will learn about the dominant issues facing leadership. Over time, team trust is enhanced as the decision-maker understands the rigor applied to recommendations in this format. The table below can be used to format the recommendation whether through a presentation, white paper, or even a verbal briefing.


This approach contributes to the professional development of junior staff members, as well. It opens an opportunity to understand the context and consequences (both intended and not) of challenges faced by the leadership team. Additionally, it provides unique access to different thought processes of experienced decision-makers – how they weigh various factors, how they perceive the environment, and how they rationalize their decision. Working through solutions in this manner exposes us to the senior leadership thinking that most professionals aspire to and is a great way to demonstrate that ability to the leadership team. There is no better evidence of problem-solving than real decisions applied to challenges faced by the organization.


Original Memo Text

NOTE: The full Completed Staff Work doctrine is presented below. As you read it, don’t let the tone of the memo distract you from the real lessons in leadership that are presented.  The following memorandum has been reproduced countless times by military and civilian organizations since World War II. The original source of the memorandum is unclear. Some reports indicate that the memo was issued in January 1942 by the Provost Marshal General, U.S. Army. It has also been attributed to Brigadier G.E.R. Smith, a member of the Royal Canadian Army, who released it in 1943, while he was serving as Deputy Director of Supplies and Transport, First Canadian Army. It can be found here.


SUBJECT: Completed Staff Work

The doctrine of “completed staff work” will be the doctrine of this office.

  1. “Completed Staff Work” is the study of a problem, and presentation of a solution, by a staff officer, in such form that all that remains to be done on the part of the head of the staff division, or the commander, is to indicate his approval or disapproval of the completed action. The words “completed staff action” are emphasized because the more difficult the problem is the more the tendency is to present the problem to the chief in piecemeal fashion. It is your duty as a staff officer to work out the details. You should not consult your chief in the determination of those details, no matter how perplexing they may be. You may and should consult other staff officers. The product, whether it involves the pronouncement of a new policy or affect an established one, should when presented to the chief for approval or disapproval, be worked out in finished form.
  2. The impulse which often comes to the inexperienced staff officer to ask the chief what to do, recurs more often when the problem is difficult. It is accompanied by a feeling of mental frustration. It is so easy to ask the chief what to do, and it appears so easy if you do not know your job. It is your job to advise your chief what he ought to do, not to ask him what you ought to do. He needs your answers, not questions. Your job is to study, write, restudy and rewrite until you have evolved a single proposed action – the best one of all you have considered. Your chief merely approves or disapproves.
  3. Do not worry your chief with long explanations and memoranda. Writing a memorandum to your chief does not constitute completed staff work, but writing a memorandum for your chief to send to someone else does. Your view should be placed before him in finished form so that he can make them his views by simply signing his name. In most instances, completed staff work results in a single document prepared for the signature of the chief, without accompanying comment. If the proper result is reached, the chief will usually recognize it at once. If he wants comment or explanation, he will ask for it.
  4. The theory of completed staff work does not preclude a “rough draft”, but the rough draft must not be a half-baked idea. It must be completed in every respect except that it lacks the requisite number of copies and need not be neat. But a rough draft must not be used as an excuse for shifting to the chief the burden of formulating the action.
  5. The “completed staff work” theory may result in more work for the staff officer, but it results in more freedom for the chief. This is as it should be. Further, it accomplishes two things:
      1. The chief is protected from half-baked ideas, voluminous memoranda, and immature oral presentations.
      2. The staff officer who has a real idea to sell is enabled to more readily to find a market.
  6. When you have finished your “completed staff work” the final test is this: If you were the chief would you be willing to sign the paper you have prepared, and stake your professional reputation on its being right? If the answer is negative, take it back and work it over because it is not yet “completed staff work”