If you are considering Self-Management, first you learn what it is. Then it’s important to understand the difference between Self-Organization and Self-Management. Next you should gain insight on some of the steps to put Self-Management into action. This article, the fourth in this four-part series on Self-Management focuses on the number of challenges you may encounter when moving toward self-management. Let’s explore some of those challenges.
Lacking Management Context
One of the concepts of self-management is that you operate as if there are no managers. However, this is much harder than it seems. Most employees do not have the working context of a manager. Who do you contact for finance questions or issues? How do you begin the interview process? How do you escalate issues? Do you have enough context to make decisions that cross the border of your team? What do you do to mitigate the lack of context?
- Pick the brain of your manager on the various topics such as budgeting, human resource, hiring, expenses, and any area that they have had responsibility.
- Become aware of oddities and exceptions on how things work within an organization and what has been tried.
- Decide who on the team will be the new contact for different areas. The contact may rotate.
- Connect with and meet with those contacts from other departments.
Unfamiliar with Structures, Processes, and Policies
Within each company, there are often a maze of processes and policies. Most employees are exposed to only a small number. When becoming self-managed, those on the team must become more familiar with the array of processes and policies. In addition, when there are reorganizations or a change in structure in different departments, a manager typically learns what this means. What do you do to mitigate this unfamiliarity with structures, processes, and policies?
- After a reorganization or change in structure, take time to fully learn what the change is and how this may impact your team.
- Take time to learn the processes and policies within the organization. This will vary from country to country. Consider doing this as a group.
- There may be unspoken policies. Ask your manager if they are aware of any and have them explained.
Not respecting Knowledge and Experience
There is often a misunderstanding that now that you are self-managed, that everyone is the same. Self-Management within a team context does not mean everyone is created equal. You may have some people who have knowledge and experience in self-management and some who have none. What do you do to mitigate this lack of knowledge and experience?
- If you have little or no knowledge or experience, be honest about it. Be open to continuously learning as self-management is a journey. Explore, learn, and adapt.
- Be willing to take guidance from those that have experience. Recognize and value others’ experiences.
- As moving toward self-management is hard, be honest if you (as a team) are not ready to assume some of the responsibilities early one.
Lack of discretion about your Self-Management
It is important to understand that few teams will have the unique responsibility and ability to direct their own future with few constraints that self-management brings. This can make other teams envious. You can find yourself creating problems if you share this too broadly. What do you do to mitigate the concern of discretion?
- Act with discretion. Only share your self-management experience when asked.
- If a team is exploring the idea of self-organization or self-management, then consider sharing those portions of the topic that may benefit them.
Confusion around Communications and Stakeholder Management
When there is a manager, there is often communication both from the outside to the manager and the manager to the team. There is a more complex pattern of communication when everyone from the team is involved. Who gets the communication? Who do you communicate with? How do you solicit feedback from your stakeholders? What do you do to mitigate the confusion around communication and stakeholder management?
- Create a communication strategy both amongst the team and outside of the team. This ensures that everyone gets the information in a timely manner and no one is missed.
- Be mindful what you communicate outside of the team. A manager often adapts the message depending on what information is to be shared so it is delivered in the right tone and balance. Learn to adapt the message.
- Identify who communicates to whom outside the team. This may be one person, a rotation, or different people depending on the topic at hand.
Additional Workload on the Team
When moving to self-management, the team absorbs the responsibility of the manager. This shouldn’t be taken lightly and injects a whole full-time equivalent amount of work onto the team as the manager’s responsibilities are transitioned to the team. Where does all of this work go? It gets shared across and amongst the team. What do you do to mitigate the additional workload?
- If the team already has enough work to fill the number of people on the team, then they will need to reduce the workload in order to absorb the new responsibilities of the manager when moving to self-management.
- Consider creating a percentage of slack time to be able to adapt to the peaks of activity that may be needed.
- Add the manager’s activities as real and visible work on the team backlog
Lack of ownership
There can be an illusion that in self-management that everyone owns the work. While this is generally true, it is misunderstood. There is a saying that ”When everyone owns the thing, no one owns the thing.” There will be a need to have theme owners of work to ensure the work is adequately being guided with appropriate strategy. What do you do to mitigate the lack of ownership?
- Identify theme or epic owners who understand the work more closely, who prioritize the work in increments, who get feedback, and who craft the strategy.
- Add the owner as the primary contact for the work. Anyone can own a particular activity relating to the theme or epic.
- While there should be owners of buckets of work, input from other team members should be continuously collected.
Increase Team Conflict
A manager has a certain hierarchical position. When the manager moves toward the background, team members need to step up. This can cause conflict when some personality types jump at the chance at leadership roles and some that shrink from it. However, this doesn’t mean that the extroverts should automatically get the opportunities or are better at the responsibilities. Who enacts the leadership roles now that the manager is not around? What do you do to mitigate the potential increase in team conflict?
- Allocate thinking time to discuss how to manage potential conflict. This may include ways to negotiate leadership opportunities and rotations.
- Work on conflict-management, problem solving, and decision-making soft skills as a team.
- Build team knowledge and experience in giving and receiving feedback.
- Recognize that you may be re-entering the forming and storming phases (per Tuckman’s model) and team-forming activities may be needed.
It is important to learn about the challenges of self-management so that you don’t stumble into these problems. Instead, proactively be prepared. Consider adding self-management challenges as part of your self-management education. Also, as you embark on your self-management journey, consider regular retrospectives so that you can understand what is going well and what can be improved. Good luck!
Consider reading the rest of the Self-Management series: