Self Directed Work Team (SDWT) Advantages and Disadvantages


23 Mar 2015 13 Dec 2017

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A Briefing on Self Directed Work Team (SDWT) by Group 5

Self Directed Work Team is a powerful concept since the ancient Roman legion and today approximately 68% of fortune 1000 companies implement SDWT concept including Ford, GM, P&G, FedEx, etc. (Lawler, Mohrman, & Ledford ,1995).


Vecchio (2003, p.107) defined Self Directed Work Teams (SDWT) as “a highly trained group of six to eighteen employees that is fully responsible for creating a specific product”. And according to an article in Entrepreneur Connect  (Anon, 1995) “self -directed teams are small groups of employees who have responsibility for managing themselves and their work”.

Success in today's challenging competitive environment is based on employee empowerment and team work (Boyett & Boyett, 1998). This could be closely related to Herzberg's motivating factor which was later simply defined by Barbara (n.d.) as “what makes you work well”.

Many companies are attracted to this innovation because of the prospect of flattening the organizational structure in these times when downsizing, flattening and work process reengineering are so crucial (Coates and Miller, 1995). SDWT leads to increased organizational effectiveness and employee satisfaction (Forsyth, 1999) which in today's business is being the competitive advantage (Ron Williams, n.d).

Advantages of SDWT

General Motors, Proctor & Gamble & Xerox by implementing SDWT resulted in approximately 30-40% improvement in productivity (Bruce,n.d.). In Kodak customer assistance centre SDWT resulted in 100% increase in profits (Anon, n.d.).FedEx improved their service by reducing the loss of packages and incorrect billing by 13%. Rubbermaid increased sales by 50% above projections

  • Quality improvement.
  • Increased productivity and reduced cost.
  • Highly flexible.
  • Simpler job classification and each member know every process through job rotation which will reduce dependency one person.
  • Better innovation and creativity.
  • Team members are motivated by job satisfaction, empowerment, trust, feel of ownership & personal growth which in turn benefit the company as a whole.
  • SDWT is being a vehicle for bringing in the Total Quality Management concept in an organization (Vecchio,2006,p.112)

Following statistics based on a review of organization that transferred to SDWT (John Cotter, n.d.) well prove the positive impact.

93% reported improve productivity
86% reported decreased operating cost
86% reported improved quality
70% reported better employee attitudes

Given the above advantages and success stories there are consequences and problems in challenging the success of SDWT and even driving to the opposite direction to failure.

Consequences of SDWT

  • Elimination of supervisory position. The need for shift from holding the decision making power to delegation and allowing autonomy. In other words supervisor should act as a facilitator and provide guidance to teams especially outside the teams' areas of expertise. Supervisors should manage communication and monitor the effectiveness. Leaders promote team work and corporation (Brillhart, 1983). The key in supervisory role is to motivate “Self-Direction”. In an interview with Sterling Health USA, employees often quoted that “Before, the group leader made all the decisions. You didn't know why the decisions were we do” (Peter, 1999). But is the team leader ready to accept the transition from holding the power to delegation? Is S/He ready to improve the skills to qualify as a facilitator?
  • Requirement for heavy investment in training. Training needed for both supervisors and team members in building various skills. Cloke and Goldsmith ( 2002, pp 205-214 ) identified ten skills those are essential for members of the work teams to develop self management, communication, leadership, responsibility, supporting diversity, feedback and evaluation, strategic planning, shaping successful meeting, resolving conflicts and enjoyment. Williams (n.d.) mentioned “It is not uncommon for self-directed work teams to spend 20% of their time in ongoing training”. Organization willing to implement SDWT should have a clear training strategy including cross training opportunity and resources. Top management should design the training policy and budget for it.
    • Need for more flatter and flexible organizational structure. The decision making authority is transformed to the team members to eliminate waste of time relying on approvals from managers. Self-direction, autonomy, empowerment are the key players in success of SDWT which is facilitated only on flat structures. Responsibilities assigned to workers in GM clearly indicate the need for flat structure.(William,1999,p.11)
      • Responsibility for quality control.
      • Responsibility for maintenance and small repairs.
      • Responsibility for safety.
      • Responsibility for capital budgeting and operational budgeting.
      • Responsibility for staffing.
    • SDWT to begin performing takes long period. As per William (1999) SDWTs cannot be created instantly; it can take 2 to 5 years to fully implement. Some companies might not have the time or resources to go through this process

      Stages of forming SDWT:

      • Stage one: (Start-Up) Goal preparation, explanation of purpose, member selection and building trust (6-9months).
      • Stage two: (State of confusion) Technical assistance, feedback, implementing procedures to support self direction, and training. (6-9months).
      • Stage three: (Leader - centered team) Encouraging leadership activity among team members. (6-12months).
      • Stage four: (Tightly formed teams) Resolving conflicts, start managing on own, communicating resource requirement and goals.(6-12months).
      • Stage five: (Self direction) Maintain self confidence and self esteem of others. Strong partnership with internal and external customers.

Consequently, if you look at the time and training involved in SDWT's it might not be suitable for an environment with a high employee turnover.

  • Need for greater leadership development. As the organization would no longer function in a traditional manner the leaders or managers need to build their ability to allow and encourage such a high level of empowerment, which can be tackled with specially created programs (Coates and Miller, 1995).

Problems of SDWT

    • Team members approached the saturation point of learning through job rotation and would have achieved the maximum level of earning i.e. plant rate where no more room for psychological or financial boosts (Vecchio, 2006, p.113). Again while talking about pay as a motivator does it really matter? Can rewarding and recognition be the motivator to ensure continuing performance of the employees (Vecchio, 2006, p.84).  Also the performance measurement system should not create any competition within team members which will reduce co-operation and affect the success of SDWT.
    • Another major challenge is getting people to remain committed to the improvement of the processes when they realize that they may be working themselves out of a job. The employees involved in self-directed work teams must have a great deal of trust so that employees are not concerned about their job security (Anon, 1995).
    • Conflict management would be another critical and sensitive issue. Again each team member has different personalities and perceptions. Here comes the importance of required skills from facilitator. A culture of knowledge sharing has to be built in.
    • Another question is that, are employees ready to be self directed? Whether they have capacity and skills? Of course proper training would be in place but still some employees prefer manager's direction on what to do rather than deciding on their own. Here comes the need for selecting appropriate team members which is again depending on the talent of facilitator.
    • Is the organization policies and culture is supportive in transferring power and authority to team members?
    • Other problems would be signs of overconfidence which lead to members willing to take extra ordinary risk, members ignoring the ethical consequences, collective rationalization and underestimating capabilities of other groups which may lead to failure and financial losses.(Craig, 2005, p.219)
    • Given the fact empowerment is a key to succeed in SDWT; will all the managers support this? Foegen (1999) stated on the loss of control: "If one individual makes all the decisions in a given department, for example, his or her control is all-encompassing. Focus is obvious and unequivocal. But when authority is delegated, that focus becomes blurred, decision making is diffused, and responsibility's locus is often less certain." He also stated delegation and empowerment can decrease the self image of the managers. The other pitfalls of empowerment would be lack of clarity, management's view as shared control / loss of control etc.
  • Finally it would require numerous changes in processes and procedures and require a lot more time to make SDWT's successful in a unionized department.


Before a company can decide to implement self directed work teams, Coates and Miller (1995) point out certain situations or job fields in which this method may not work. These include:

  • When there is a requirement for direction or supervision. This is often needed for jobs which may be unpleasant, arduous, fast paced or risky.
  • When minimal team interaction is required. In jobs such as these employees may find it difficult to lead each other.
  • When a lack of professional maturity exists among team members.
  • An unwillingness to make the effort exists.
  • The inability to meet regularly as a team.

Work groups with any of these five characteristics would find it difficult to function effectively and may have to resort to the traditional method of management. Statistics shows that empowerment has about a 50% success rate and it is found that major reason for this is lack of management commitment to the change process. One of the companies failed by using SDWT is The Airline people's Express. (Fisher, 2000, p.26).


Anon. (1995) Taking the Mystery Out of Self -Directed Work Teams, Entrepreneur Connect [Online]. Available from:  (Accessed: 21 August 2009).

Anon (n.d.) Teams, the good, the bad and the ugly [Online] Available from: (Accessed: 22 August 2009)

Boyett, J. & Boyett, J. (1998) The guru guide: The best of the top management thinkers. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Brillhart, J.(1983) Effective group discussion. 5th ed. Dubuque, Iowa: William Brown Co.

Bruce K.Bernard (n.d) Preparing for Self-Directed Work Teams [Online] Available from: (Accessed: 21 August 2009).

Cloke, K and Goldsmith, J (2002) The End of Management and the Rise of Organizational Democracy. Questia Online Library [Online] Available from: (Accessed: 21 August 2009).

Coates, D. & Miller, M. (1995) ‘Self Directed Teams: Lessons Learned for Local Government', Public Management, 77 (12), p. 16, Questia Online Library [Online]. Available from: (Accessed: 21August 2009).

Craig E. Johnson. (2005) Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership. 2nd ed. USA: Sage Publications Inc.
Ed Rose & Steve Buckley. (1999) Self Directed work Teams, A Trainer's Role in the Transition. USA: Intersil Coporation.

Foegen, J.H. (1999) 'Why not empowerment', Business and Economic Review, Apr-Jun 1999  [Online]. Available from: (Accessed: 22 August 2009)

Forsyth, D. (1999) Group dynamics. 3rd ed. New York: Brooks/Cole-Wadsworth.

Jeffrey Christopher Bauer (2002) A Longitudinal Evaluation of The Impact of Organizational Structure on Role Ambiguity and Work Group Performance [Online] Available from: (Accessed: 21 August 2009).

Kimball Fisher. (2000). Leading Self Directed Work Teams, A Guide to Developing New Team Leadership Skils. USA: McGraw-Hill.

Peter B.Grazier (1999) Living with a self directed work team & why self-direction works: A review of Herzberg's Concepts [Online] Available from: (Accessed: 21 August 2009).

Robert P. Vecchio (2006) Organizational Behavior, 6th ed. Mason, OH, USA: Thomson Corporation South-Western.

Robert T.Howell (2001) Fostering Self-Directed Team Members [Online] Available from: (Accessed: 21August 2009).

Williams, R. (n.d.) Self-Directed Work Teams: A Competitive Advantage [online] Available from: (Accessed: 20 August 2009).


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