When most people think of teams, they envision a fairly traditional, hierarchical system. Managers, team leaders and team members all slot neatly into place in this picture. For some leaders, though, better results can be had by adopting a freer kind of structure.
There are two main approaches to consider here: organisational versus self-managed.
Organisational structures for teams
The organisational structure is the one most people will be familiar with. It uses a hierarchy with set roles. Authority plays a big part here, as does responsibility.
Although most organisationally-structured teams take on the traditional form of ‘team leader’ and ‘team members’, there are a number of permutations that are possible. In bigger teams, delegation of some leadership authority to project leaders is a good idea. Some teams require responsibilities to be assigned to specific individuals, while others use teamwork to accomplish goals.
Self-managed teams split off from the traditional organisational structure into something more democratic. Decisions are made within the team, rather than handed down from above, and the sense of authority versus subordinate is absent.
This doesn’t mean that self-managed teams don’t require leaders. A leader is usually appointed to guide the team through the decision-making process, acting much like a chairperson for a committee. Team leaders and managers may choose to take on this style for themselves, allowing their team a little more freedom.
The benefits and drawbacks
As with anything, there are benefits and drawbacks to both kinds of team organisation.
Self-managed teams can be incredibly effective and empowering for those involved, helping them take ownership of their work and therefore improving their job satisfaction.
On the other hand, the lack of formal authority in self-managed teams means they can be prone to personality clashes. Leaders who abdicate their power in this scenario can also feel a little frustrated at times; it takes a fair amount of trust.
Organisationally Structured Teams
Organisationally-structured teams often do well because the rights and responsibilities for each member are clear. It’s much easier for leaders to guide the process.
However, this type of traditional team structure can be frustrating for some staff members. It can also stifle creativity, particularly in the hands of an inappropriate leader.
The answer, when deciding on leadership styles, is to match the style to the desired outcome. When the team needs more freedom, a self-managed style is definitely worth a try.