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Self Directed Teams: Advantages and Disadvantages Research Paper


Companies today are facing serious challenges due to a more complex and global economy that is constantly facing rapid changes. This in effect has rendered the traditional techniques of performing organizational activities to be useless. In an effort to remain relevant and competitive in today’s global economy, companies are now incorporating work groups to increase employee participation and productivity within an organization.

These groups referred to as self directed teams (SDTs) are useful to an organization that wants to remain competitive in the market. They are also useful in the event the organization wants to incorporate a team based structure or where the activities and operations of the organization have become to complex for one employee to perform resulting in the involvement of more employees to perform the activities.

Literature review on Self Directed Teams

To gain a proper understanding of the concept behind self directed teams, an analysis of available theories and literature will be reviewed in the following section as well as defining what is meant by a self directed team. According to McShane et al. (2010), a self directed work team is defined as a small group of employees within an organization who combine their different work skills and knowledge so as to achieve a common goal or purpose.

The group usually contains five to twenty people who are assigned tasks according to what their capabilities are. Empowerment plays a big role in creating and implementing these work teams because the employees have the power to control their work and work environment while at the same time striving for self-sufficiency.

According to Recardo (1996), the main idea behind the creation of self directed teams is that they are meant to be autonomous from departments, business units or sections of authority within an organization. Employees within these groups are given the power to take charge and make decisions that will affect the outcome of their work. They are in effect managing themselves and directing the operations or tasks that have been assigned to the team.

McShane et al (2010) note that such autonomy allows the employees to work without any interference from managers or employees in positions of authority while at the same time improving their interdependence and self-reliance skills. Polland (2000) in his article highlights the autonomy of self directed teams which is based on the fact that every member participates in the decision making process preventing an incidence of discrimination. These groups also allow the allocation of roles to employees who are considered to be of a minority group such as female employees and foreigners.

Types of Self Directed Teams

The roles of the work teams vary within a given organization but they are mainly charged with the responsibility for activities such as work planning, scheduling, material handling, record keeping, and personnel administration. The types of self directed teams that can be found within an organization include problem solving team, product development team, task force, project team, communities of practice, representative committee and the management team (McShane et al, 2010).

The problem solving team is a short term work team that is formed to deal with a particular problem that might arise in the course of an organization’s operations. The project team entails having employees with certain skills and knowledge that are needed in developing, designing and implementing a project. The task force team which is similar to the problem solving team is also a short term team that is formed to deal with a particular problem while at the same time developing a solution to address the problem and designing an implementation plan to solve the problem.

The product development team is formed with the task of creating new products or services for the company. Apart from the employees who work in the design team, this team might also incorporate customers and suppliers in the product development process. The management team is made up of a collection of managers within an organization who represent the interdependent functions of their business units in this team (McShane, 2010).

The representative committee is formed to have employees represent their work colleagues by making decisions or recommendations on behalf of them. The communities of practice are an informal self directed group that is formed to enable its team members to learn from each other. It is a mutually beneficial group that enables its member to share their techniques, skills, knowledge and capabilities with other members in the group (Balasubramanian, n.d.).

Advantages and Disadvantages of SDTs

The advantage of having self directed teams is that there is improvement in employee flexibility and the operational activities of the organization. Operations and processes have to be redesigned so as to maximize the whole process instead of linking one unit to the process (Lussier & Achua, 2010). Another advantage of using an SDT is that the operational and overhead costs that are incurred by the organization are decreased. This is because work is subdivided amongst the employees instead of the managers resulting in lower support and management staff levels (Recardo, 1996)

Because the work in the self directed teams is motivating, employees within these teams will find it difficult to miss work leading to a decrease in absenteeism, tardiness and increased motivation levels. Another benefit is employees have a greater opportunity to develop their skills and advance their professional careers as a result of the on-the-job training that comes with the self directed groups. Employees have the opportunity to participate in decision making activities as well as taking responsibility for those decisions. Companies that adopt SDTs have higher levels of productivity and their products are of a high quality (Recardo, 1996).

The disadvantages of self directed work teams are that the work in these groups becomes challenging and demanding as every member has to contribute to the team’s activities. The demanding workload leads to an increase in employee turnover especially if the teams are formed for a short term basis. There is also a lot of pressure for team members to perform well due to the redesigning of work processes. This prevents employees who are unable or unwilling to perform to be eliminated from the group (Recardo, 1996).

Theories and Concepts on Self Directed Work Teams

According to Recardo (1996) the concept of STDs has been adopted by companies worldwide because it has proved to increase the productivity of the organization leading to high quantity commodities and goods that are of a high quality.

It has also lead to improved returns on investments as well as increased customer satisfaction with company products.

A theory that explains the concept of self directed teams in organizations is the socio-technical systems theory that was developed by Eric Trist in his 1950 case study of the coal mines in England. The theory is based on the fact that an organization is made up of a series of operations where the inputs are changed into outputs such as goods or services that will provide value to the customer. The processes occur in a social and technical system with each system affecting the other in line with the organizations external environmental demands (Recardo, 1996).

This theory has its foundation on two principles which are the interaction of social, technical factors within an organization that create an environment that will lead to the success of the organization and the optimization of these two factors to improve the employees performance within the organization. The formulation of this theory was motivated by an irrational situation where an organization is faced with low productivity levels despite having advanced technology, better employee benefits and remuneration packages (Walker, et al., 2007).

Trist noted the that interaction between the social and technical factors was assumed to exist as a force that impacted the psychological aspect of an employee in a way that would force them to adopt a work task and perform it well or abandon any attempts of performing the task if they knew they could not perform it well. The end result of the social and technical force was that employees had reduced productivity levels and there was increased tardiness and absenteeism (Walker et al, 2007).

Key Findings of SDTs Research and Application to an Organization

Key issues and themes that have emerged from the literature review are the social and technical factors that influence employee productivity, performance and motivation in the self directed teams. Woodward, Perrow and Thompson are among notable researchers who made contributions in the understanding of self directed work teams in the organization. Woodward’s research found that a relationship existed between technology and the organizational structure where a fit between the two factors led to an effective organization.

As Rose & Buckley (1999) note Perrow’s research focused on the knowledge technology of a company instead of its production technology. He proposed that the effect of technology to employee performance should be looked at in the perspective of the number of problems an employee encounters in their work and the techniques that will be used to deal with those problems (Applebaum, 1997).

As Applebaum (1997) notes, Thompson’s research was not focused on creating a link between technology and the organization structure but it was centered on an organization structure that ensures organizational technology is protected against any current or future uncertainty. Thompson proposed that technology will determine how strategies to counter uncertainty within an organization will be formulated and implemented.

Characteristics of Self Directed Teams and Their Importance

The characteristics of SDTs are that they focus more on multitasking instead of specialization; they are managed and led by employees instead of managers; employee involvement in these teams is involuntary, the focus is more on team performance instead of individual employee performance, information flow and communication channels are three way and there is a controlled point of origin for the information (Recardo, 1996).

The importance of having self managed teams within an organization is that there is job security for the employees who are placed within these teams, remuneration and pay is based on the performance of the employee and what skills they possess, employees efforts are recognized and their decision making skills are improved. This enables employees to make decisions for themselves reducing the manager’s workload considerably. It also enables employees to make decisions that will work for the group instead of the individual employee (Recardo, 1996).


Research and literature has provided evidence that shows self directed teams will increase the productivity of an organization while at the same time enabling it to produce products that are inferior in quality. Companies that have embraced these teams have been able to survive any economic problems that affect organizations in the event of a recession or downturn in the global market.

Even though implementing these teams will prove to be difficult to the management team, they become easy to sustain and run. For successful implementation, the following aspects have to be undertaken: the organization has to undergo a complete redesign of its work processes and job descriptions, the management philosophy has to undergo a complete change, employees have to undergo on-the-job training to acquire additional skills and the reward system should be reviewed to ensure compensation is based on these teams.

Organizations are now focused on empowering employees today more than in the past. By adopting the self directed teams, the goal of employee empowerment can be achieved leading to a successful organization.


Applebaum, S.H. (1997) Socio-technical systems theory: an intervention strategy for Organizational development. Quebec, Canada: MCB University Press, pp452-463.

Balasubramanian, N. (n.d.) Self-directed work teams: challenges for leading, managing and performing in self directed work teams. Denver: University of Colorado.

Lussier, R.N. and Achua, C.F. (2010) Leadership: theory, application and skill development. 4th Edition. Ohio, US: Southwestern, Cengage Learning.

McShane, S., Olekalns, M. and Travaglione, T. (2010) Organizational behavior on the pacific rim. Australia: McGraw Hill.

Polland, A. (2000) The emergence of self directed work teams and their effect on Title VII Law. University of Pennsylvania Law Review.

Recardo, R.J. (1996) Teams: who needs them and why?, Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing.

Rose, E. and Buckley, S. (1999) Self directed work teams: a trainer’s role in the transition. US: American Society for Training and Development.

Walker, G., Stanton, N., Salmon, P. and Jenkins, D. (2007) A review of sociotechnical systems theory: a classic concept for new command and control paradigms.

Human Factors Integration Defense Technology Centre.


  1. Will self directed teams be a replacement to leadership and managers in the future?
  2. What is the relevance of the relationship between social and technical aspects of self directed teams to the organizations overall mission, vision, goals and objectives?
  3. How much power and authority can be given to employees and what is their behavior in these teams?
  4. Can the concept of self managed teams be applied to all the types of organizations, companies and business?
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"Self Directed Teams: Advantages and Disadvantages." IvyPanda, 27 June 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/self-directed-teams-advantages-and-disadvantages/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Self Directed Teams: Advantages and Disadvantages." June 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/self-directed-teams-advantages-and-disadvantages/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Self Directed Teams: Advantages and Disadvantages'. 27 June.

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