In a ‘self-managed’ or ‘autonomous’ team, every member takes collective responsibility for ensuring that a department meets its targets. 

Traditional working models see loosely connected workers performing separate tasks under one manager, whereas autonomous models see workers completing interrelated jobs collaboratively under project leaders.

The idea of self-managed teams has been around since the 1960s. However, they came back into popularity over the last 10 years — even more so after COVID forced businesses across the globe to be more flexible when it comes to managing employees.

In this article, we’ll look at what makes a self-managed team successful, with some practical advice for directors and heads of customer service who are looking to try a more autonomous approach.

3 Building blocks of a successful self-managed team

1. Innovative structure — no more hierarchy

Almost 95% of people either work under a boss or are a boss themselves. Studies have shown that poor management makes 48% of employees most unhappy at work, which reduces productivity as a result.

Removing the traditional hierarchy layout with managers and bosses and replacing it with self-managed teams is one way to create a customer service structure that not only delivers quality for customers, but keeps employees happy too.

A team will have multiple projects on the go, with specific leaders for each. Leaders can share work more evenly with the team and focus on making the customer service process as smooth as possible.

2. Positive team morale — happy teams provide better service

Studies have shown that 67% of employees in customer service would go above and beyond if they felt valued and engaged at work.

The give-and-take nature of self-managed teams brings value to every employee’s role, which makes them feel more appreciated at work.

Feeling like an integral part of a team nurtures an employee’s desire to ‘do their part’ and deliver positive results for their coworkers and customers.

3. Increased trust between the customer and service team

70% of purchasing decisions are based on how people feel they’re treated in customer service, so it is essential that customer service teams work together to streamline the customer experience.

Employees in a non-hierarchical team are mutually supportive, learning from one another instead of following a linear or restrictive path laid out by one manager. Leaders are able to concentrate on making sure employees have the resources they need to provide top quality service.

5 characteristics of a good team

1. Cost effective

Autonomous teams can help reduce overall costs, particularly in recruitment. For example, RCAR Electronics reported annual savings of $10 million following the implementation of self-managed teams.

Costs for hiring and training supervisors and managers can be saved or reallocated to other resources that focus more on providing top quality customer service. For example:

  • Investing in premium equipment
  • Assigning budgets to new projects and innovations
  • Organising staff training and events to boost team morale and productivity

3. Innovative

Innovation is powered by communication, collaboration and engagement — so are self-managed teams. Having a less hierarchical structure means it’s easier to implement creative new ideas, instead of losing them during lengthy approval processes.

Make room for innovation by:

  • Assigning roles and decision-making standards within each project as opposed to across entire departments. When people know where their priorities lie, they can focus on innovating the parts of the company that they know need work.
  • Defining specific objectives and goals per project to keep teams on track and give them the space to explore and test new ideas.
  • Finding ways to continually educate teams will help them thrive in their roles, feeling educated and empowered to make positive change for customers.

3. Collaborative

Self-managed teams can develop quicker or more effective decision-making skills because team members work together instead of managers telling individuals what to do. Employees collaborate to gather and synthesise information, whilst taking collective responsibility for meeting their goals.

By collaborating, customer service teams become:

  • More proactive in solving problems before customers get annoyed
  • More productive as team members work together to ensure they handle every call  efficiently

4. Productive

When successful, self-managed teams can be 15–20% more productive than other types of teams. Instead of a traditional management hierarchy authorising every decision, teams closest to the customers are making decisions, and are able to move much faster to tackle new opportunities and challenges as a result.

Productivity increases as teams work towards a common goal without the need for lengthy approval processes, unnecessary documentation or senior meetings.

5. Motivated

A key characteristic of a good team is highly-motivated employees. Although it might seem counter-intuitive, self-managed teams can be particularly motivated if one member is elected to be a leader.

The role of a leader isn’t that of a conventional manager; rather than calling all the shots, they offer service to the entire team. Leaders provide mentoring, facilitate team building, and remind teams to stay aligned on their common goal.

Team members experience more autonomy and responsibility in such a layout, helping them feel more connected to the work they do and motivated to provide the most efficient and effective service to their customers.

4 steps to success

There are four main ways to measure the success of an autonomous or self-managed team:

1. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Setting KPIs helps teams focus their work towards a common goal. Providing incremental objectives along the way will steer decision-making to get more focused results. Performance indicators can also provide an estimate of how past or current decisions are likely to affect the end goal.

2. Return on Investment (ROI)

Teams can measure ROI by identifying which customer behaviours to monitor and how changes to them will impact cost per contact, cost per conversion, customer lifetime value, and retention rates.

3. Employee feedback groups

Regular brainstorming, problem solving and troubleshooting sessions will help teams solve issues as soon as they arise. Group meetings are also a place to nurture personal development — a tool that can be used to improve the output of the team as a whole.

4. Customer feedback surveys

Surveys and questionnaires provide measurable data from which to judge success. For example, if a high number of respondents say that a customer service call has too many questions, team leaders can edit the structure accordingly.

Asking for feedback at the end of a call or sending a link via email also shows customers that the company values their opinions, making them more likely to use the service again.

How Sigma Connected can deliver effective self-managed teams

Self-managed teams and autonomous structures are an innovative alternative to traditional models, but they can’t be implemented overnight. Sigma is able to support a company’s transformation if they decide self-managed teams are for them.