Natural Work Teams

Individual managing can be accomplished through “natural work teams.” These are high-performance teams that people form in the area of the organization where they work. Two examples: in the regional sales ofice of a strategic business unit, the people are naturally working together; in a manufacturing plant, the people are producing a given product. Such work teams are the most natural way to accomplish work effectively. They are elemental to a business organization – its building blocks, as it were – and you see them everywhere. Natural work teams are usually found in areas where the people are performing speciic tasks, such as in the spinning area for synthetic ibre products.

Image showing Natural Work
Natural work groups exist in all organizations

If the people on these teams are learning leadership skills and have functional competency (e.g., at selling things, or manufacturing them), and if they also understand the value-add they are providing to the business organization overall, they are developmental and in a position to self-manage. So there will be no need for a sales manager, no need for an area manufacturing supervisor or foreman. In the above examples, these high-performance teams

– these natural work teams – can allocate speciic managing tasks to the individuals doing the functional work of selling or manufacturing.

The concept of natural work teams can be extended to multifunction situations. Consider a natural work team that has been challenged to manage a strategic business unit. Here in this natural work team we might have a inance person, a manufacturing representative, a marketing representative, a planner, and a human resource expert. Again, it is possible for each of these people to shoulder accountability for an aspect of a business unit manager's role so that there is no role for a manager per se.

On such teams, the individuals are managing themselves, and in turn, this team of individual managers is managing itself. The managing process has been distributed among the people who are doing the functional work.

What are these managing tasks?

The manager in a conventional organization uses his authority to control people and things and focuses on objectives that relect his speciic managerial role. This “dedicated, positional manager” engages in various managing processes such as planning the team's activities, providing the team with human and material resources, organizing resources for speciic team activities, and exercising control to maintain a steady state in the team's activities so that certain objectives are met.

It is easy to see that in theory, the tasks of managing can be allocated. But for this to work, speciic competence must exist in the people and the
organization. This competence is the competency of role model leading: Everyone a Leader, everyone a functional expert, everyone a strong-willed and competent business person with a developmental outlook.

My experience has been that a natural work team usually does not need a “positional” manager provided that it is staffed by people who have strong functional competence, who are dedicated to learning and who understand their purpose as well as how that purpose aligns with the aspirations of the organization as a whole. In fact, a natural work team that is populated with people like these will be disadvantaged by a positional manager whose job is to control their activities.

The members of a natural work team – which is both a microcosm and a building block of the high-performance work system – can manage themselves. And when all of an organization's teams operating in this manner are networked effectively – which they are, in a high-performance work system – there is no need for positional managers. But I would add to that: a system also needs to be disciplined and orderly if it is to succeed in managing itself. And there are many possible approaches to ensuring that it is.

Over the years, DuPont Canada developed the STAR model (Strategy, Teaming, Actions, and Responsibilities) as part of cultural changes it made over many years. That model describes how to develop teams that will manage themselves effectively in a high-performance organization. In other words, it describes both a process and a system for nurturing natural work teams. It outlines managing processes and responsibilities such as planning, providing human and material resources, and organizing those resources for speciic team activities. As positional managers are eliminated from the structure, their tasks are assumed by the members of the natural high-performance team. To carry out those tasks effectively, all the team members need to be competent and they will have to learn the tasks as part of their overall functional role.

My experience at practising this concept has been that on many teams, the various individuals migrate towards one managerial task or another. Each person will have a natural interest and capability to “plan,” to be “the logistics person,” to be “interested in people,” to be “interested in things,” and so on. It is often surprisingly easy to divide managerial tasks into functional elements that the various individuals on the team are most interested in doing. Obviously, in some cases, the ones who are naturally interested in “planning,” say, will need to learn that skill ofline on their own or do that planning in concert with other “planners” in the larger organization. Example:

This example applies the STAR model to a manufacturing environment. The work of managing will be allocated to the various team members who will also have speciic functional roles such as operating a machine, maintaining a machine, or improving the machine. These same people will extend their work to include one of the following managing tasks:

Directing: The person accountable for the collective process who decides the direction and the goals of the team, group, or organization and its relationship to the overall mission of the larger organization.

Personnel: The person who addresses the team's human resource capability – for example, this person sources people for the team and matches them to speciic tasks.

Materials: The person who acquires and handles the materials and information the team requires – for example, raw materials, disposition of outputs, and shipping.

Planning: The person who forecasts the team's actions and outputs and who evaluates its progress towards goals – for example, by aligning monthly customer sales to output.

Operations: The person who maintains and renews the various processes, systems, and structures within the team's purview – for example, by continuously upgrading the team's activities in order to eliminate waste.

All the members of the natural work team will be allocated to the various points on the STAR model. There will be one or more people at each point depending on the complexity of the team and the organization. They will be allocated based on their interests and capabilities and expected to continuously improve their capabilities at those tasks.

A inal important feature of the system is networking. Competency in each of the managing processes on the STAR model is enhanced when all the people in the larger organization learn together in a competency networking process on a regular basis – that is, when all the people engaged in human resourcing in each natural work team come together to learn to be better human resource people, to learn the skills, techniques, and procedures to become expert in that role.

The great beneit of this individual managing model is that it challenges people to learn more – to learn to be competent in the organization's
various tasks. They will become more experienced, more integrated, more developmental, and more competent.

At DuPont Canada, this mode of operation – Everyone a Leader, everyone an individual manager, the use of natural high-performance work teams – was practised in marketing and sales groups, in manufacturing plants, and in various functional units such as accounting and engineering. Always, successes (or failures) could be linked to the presence (or absence) of suficient leadership competence on the natural work teams.

Even when an experiment in individual managing was not entirely successful, the vitality of the organization increased. People were energized by the concept of self-management. Even when it was necessary to take a backward step by introducing a conventional manager to the team, that team did not slide back all the way. Instead, the “replanted” manager became a resource, not the “boss.” In effect, the manager role in these circumstances became that of teaching individual managing and leadership.

When the experiment succeeded, the vitality of the people on the team was at a very high level and their performance as a unit was extremely high. Then there is the question of whether individual managing can fail as a result of “overwork.” How can a person performing a challenging functional role such as engineering or accounting on a natural work team take on additional work such as directing or planning? Having observed these teams, the answer is clear to me: people are energized by the concept of individual managing. I am convinced that people who are vitalized in their

work have almost limitless potential to achieve.

I have observed irsthand the integrated nature of viability (function), vitality (being), and virtue (will). Leaders who increase their followers' vitality by extending them opportunities to manage themselves are reinforcing the inherent motivation of employees across the company to do the right things and thereby the virtue of the organization. And, based on my experience, there is a strong correlation of self-managing and the functional (viability) results such as increased revenue and other growth performance measures across the organization.

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