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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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Breaking from traditional leadership – how to move to a self-managed team


This article was written by Kate Russell, MD of Russell HR Consulting.

How are you today? Busy I expect? Mondays are always busy for us and there are never enough hours in the day. (What do you lot get up to over the weekend that creates the Monday morning deluge?!) Heigh ho, enough of this merry badinage…

It seems opportune to chat through my thoughts on the way managers can effectively impart ‘sign off’ to staff, move away from an over-directive style to the HR nirvana of a self-managed team.

All employers want to create a workplace where employees engage fully in their work. We want them to feel pride in their work and take ownership in the outcomes. The benefits are clear. Both employer and client satisfaction improves, staff turnover reduces and profitability increases.

The most efficient and effective workplaces are those where the manager has a fairly light touch. The team members are clear about what’s wanted, know what it will take to achieve it, are skilled and capable and motivated to do so.

Start at the beginning – recruitment

The starting point in achieving this is recruitment. Get the right people in. In “Good to Great”, Jim Collins says: “First, get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats." It really is fundamental to getting the self-managed team up and running successfully. I’m afraid if there’s a donkey in the front seat, rather than a racehorse (fond though I am of donkeys), it’s just not going to be able to do the racehorse’s job and we’ll be back to carrots and sticks, much effort, poor motivation and probably poor results.

When you have the right people around you, they will be hungry for responsibility. These are such rewarding employees because they want input, love challenges and show ownership. Here’s the hard bit for you.

The importance of trust

Having got the right people round you and creating a robust framework for them to do their jobs excellently, you need to trust them and allow them to take some of the control. Where you have the right people in place, and they feel trusted and have more say as to the way they perform their roles, the research suggests they demonstrate a higher level of commitment. The bottom line is simply that they are more productive. People who know they are being trusted to be responsible and achieve goals they’ve helped to formulate and plan for, do not want to let their manager down.

Clearly you need to keep an eye on what’s happening. You don’t just dump a load of work on employees and waltz off. The trust has to be two-way. Employees have to trust you too. They need to know that they will get the support so they can achieve the agreed outcomes. Remember that (as a general rule) mistakes are learning opportunities. OK, the same mistake made repeatedly through thoughtlessness and carelessness is not acceptable, but making mistakes is one of the ways we humans learn. We all do it, all of us without exception. I look back over the horrendous mistakes I’ve made in running my business. Honestly, sometimes I cannot believe how daft I’ve been, but each time I’ve picked myself up, thought about it, got advice sometimes and made my business better.

Important personal qualities of leaders

To build trust you will need to speak and behave in a consistent fashion. You know if your words say “I agree” but your body language is shouting “No way Jose!” people just don’t trust that you mean what you say. You have to demonstrate congruence in your language and actions.

Be honest, open and evidential. Tell it like it is. Give examples. Always remember Mahatma Ghandi’s approach – love the sinner, hate the sin (if there is one). We’re dealing with actions not undermining individuals. Employees usually respect and will work well with managers who give them the whole story, even though sometimes the news may not be good. I read this and really liked it: “News – I can take it, good or bad! What I can’t take is surprises.” So true.

Be reliable and trustworthy. Do what you say you’re going to do. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Admit your own mistakes if you make a blooper. Put it right and don’t try and blame others. I hate it when someone burns themselves drinking too hot coffee then blames the restaurant.


You are responsible for creating the right work environment. If you micro-manage and over-direct it can actually damage productivity and drive out your best performers. But if you have the right people in the right places trust, develop and challenge them, you’ll not only create a great workforce, you’ll also create a highly successful commercial proposition.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence

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