Is HR continually solving the wrong problems? Self-managed teams may be the answer!

Is HR continually solving the wrong problems? Self-Managed Teams may be the answer!During a recent discussion of all things HR with a humanitarian worker who spends her life on the front line in war zones and natural disaster areas, we were reminded of how many of the issues we deal with in today’s modern workplaces are in fact developed world problems. Elsewhere in the world, where life is not so comfortable or safe, they would simply not be issues at all.

We talked about how organisations might pivot to address some of the underlying issues of people and emotions, rather than continually support and firefight as we do now. A change of focus would probably help employers and their HR teams drive better workplace cultures.

In other words, what can we learn from those who face the most extreme hardships in life, but who continue to work, socialise and live life despite whatever has come their way – with single-minded determination, incredible resilience and often still with a smile on their faces?

In our experience, the single determining differentiation between people suffering immense hardship and those who live in relative comfort and safety is attitude and priorities. In areas of hardship the focus is often still very much on family, mutual support, teamwork and making the best of what they have.

Maslow might suggest times of hardship put people towards the bottom of the Maslow Pyramid, focusing on putting a roof over their heads, finding food, shelter, clothes etc. In the UK though, we observe a primary focus in today’s world on individual need and individual rights with an accompanying urgent and ever increasing need to be seen to be successful, happy and to be recognised as an individual with our very own clear purpose in life? Has our climb up Maslow’s pyramid towards self actualization unexpectedly made us all a bit selfish and self-absorbed?

A member of our team once heard that a local Headteacher, frustrated at the excessive number of complaints he was having to deal with from parents, sent out a letter to all parents saying that if fewer people loitered to gossip and moan at the school gate each morning after dropping their kids off, with some seemingly loving the process of finding fault, then he would receive fewer complaints and the teachers of their children might find more time to actually teach the children! A brave soul but perhaps sometimes these things need to be said!

We all know that talking is good for our health and wellbeing, the UK government even ran an ad campaign about it during lock down, but do we all know that too much talking and reflection can sometimes be bad? Unless of course we wish to live our lives in the past and with a head and heart full of what ifs, anguish and conflict. We receive requests from employees asking how to make complaints about what their employer did to them sometimes 10 or 15 years ago.

Our modern workplace issues:


  • Written grievances running to 20 or 30 pages, raising multiple issues and sometimes going back years and years. (let’s be clear here that we do not have a problem with written grievances, just concerned about the number that are excessive, historic and with unrealistic expectations of potential compensation)
  • Relationship issues – who is bullying who, who is offended, who feels neglected, who doesn’t like who, who doesn’t value or respect who …(again we would always wish to support those who are bullied, but we are in danger of devaluing the genuine complaints)

Admin and paperwork

  • Paperwork and admin overload – with endless identity checks, immigration status checks and far too many passwords and portals that frustrate us all
  • Communications overload – emails and messages through works channels are ‘drowning’ us


  • D&I training – costs billions globally and is often reported to achieve little by way of behavioural change, at times driving behaviours underground
  • Other training and qualifications – these also cost individuals and businesses billions globally but far too often do not drive-up engagement, competence or personal growth as expected by either student/learner or employer.


  • High spend on technology – but far too few people know how to use the technology they have to its full potential.
  • Wi-Fi is down – so remote working productivity is down, or the business grinds to a full halt for a short while. If we are not online many of us simply don’t know how to work or find ways around the problem.


  • High levels of absence – resulting from burnout, stress and/or anxiety and depression
  • Poor mental wellbeing – affecting both productivity and engagement/morale and more seriously could it even be life limiting for some?
  • High turnover – as the grass always looks much greener elsewhere and we live our lives in FOMO mode (Fear of Missing Out) just in case there is a bit more money or a higher status job title on the table with our name on it!
  • Culture – too often people point fingers at the ‘poor culture’ without ever seeing the part they play in creating or perpetuating that.

Is it time to pivot?

Increasingly research tells us that in the future our workplace will be full of self-managed teams. If you aren’t familiar with the term, Indeed defines a self-managed team as:

“A group of employees that operates mostly or completely on their own without consistent supervision. These teams handle the production of a product or delivery of a service with minor oversight from a manager. These teams also determine deadlines, schedules and modes of communication.”

Perhaps if teams are self-managed there is less room for the problems the arise in our modern workplaces, as issues are raised and solved within the team, there is less emphasis on HR having to continually step in and guide, individuals are encouraged to be self-sufficient but also collaborative and most critically, there is less focus on individual need and more focus on team needs and team goals.

At Jaluch we switched to a self-managed team around 10 years ago so this is good news for us, but we can promise you it’s not always an easy ride (in fact it can be akin to a scary rollercoaster at times) and perhaps like a marriage needs continually reviewing and adapting alongside occasional visits to a counsellor! It is worth the effort though. Absolutely no doubt about that.

For a self-managed team to be successful our experience has taught us:

  1. Expectations about outputs and behaviours from the wider organisation and its leaders are essential and need to be regularly communicated and discussed. The structure within which each self-managed team operates should also be clear (e.g. organisational policies and procedures).
  2. Adult behaviours such as … personal accountability, consideration for others, regular support of others, regular and effective communication, reflection on own behaviours and continual adjustment, ability to balance views and compromise, ability to use language and display behaviours that reflect thought before action/speaking are critical.
  3. Emotional maturity and understanding of the team members is also critical. For example, self-awareness and awareness of impact on others, suppression of ego (the team comes before the individual), appropriate assertiveness, ability to form and maintain social relationships (social intelligence), ability to express emotions in a respectful way etc.
  4. Understanding when to escalate issues that cannot be resolved within the team is important – and the confidence to escalate quickly once an issue has been identified rather than hesitate or deliberate for fear of changing the status quo or dynamics of the team.
  5. Team members need to be able to identify when to call someone out (or even push someone out) due to their behaviours or attitude that can quickly undermine the success of the whole team. They also need the confidence to do this themselves rather than wait for others to step in and then they need to know they will be supported by the wider organisation for having taken such action.

If we could put together an agenda for a development programme for a newly formed self-managed team it might look something like this:

  • Understanding ourselves and others using psychometric profiling. Looking at behaviours and communication, and how those can impact others. Plus, a brief look at Growth Mindset.
  • The structure of a successful team or high performing team and how to set goals and measure outcomes.
  • Emotional and social intelligence – what is it? How can we develop it? And personal action planning.
  • Effective communication – reducing messaging overload, expressing our emotions appropriately, listening to others, professional writing, good questioning skills, understanding the non verbals as a critical part of communication, a brief focus on Group Think.
  • Problem solving skills and adaptability, so we keep moving and keep adjusting to ensure we hit our targets. Plus, cross team collaboration skills.
  • Understanding the tech we have, rejecting tech we don’t need, developing confidence to use our tech well and effectively
  • Accountability – what is it and how can we all support each other in becoming ever more accountable both in relation to our own job and the success of the wider team and organization. Feeling comfortable to hold others to account
  • Assertiveness skills – an essential skill if we are to be accountable, too much passivity can be as damaging within a team as aggression. Learning how to give feedback to our colleagues (360 skills)
  • Managing conflict and difficult people – learning a few techniques to manage conflict and understand how drama so often is created. Plus understanding how people who are different to us are not necessarily ‘difficult’. Tolerance and patience are key to working with others – this all wraps back to emotional intelligence!

So why take time to develop these skills within your teams?

It might look like a lot of training, but there is much at stake. If you want to create an adult, accountable culture with a significant reduction in problems, you do need to invest in your people.

The benefits can be significant:

  • A culture that attracts modern job seekers and encourages staff to stay.
  • A culture that ensures problems are nipped in the bud quickly within small teams and that issues seldom escalate.
  • A social environment at work that so many value and that creates a strong sense of wellbeing and satisfaction, great for productivity and retention.
  • Reduced legal and HR costs around conflict and grievances.
  • An adult approach to what training is needed, what tech is needed and to addressing the needs of the team promptly.
  • A culture that is soft, but strong i.e. supportive and considerate but that never turns a blind eye to anyone who has the potential to undermine the success of the whole.
  • The potential to remove whole layers of management.

We hope that there has been some food for thought for you here.

What development opportunity would you consider is most needed in your organisation – where might you start? And if you do go down this route of self-managed teams, what might you have to address at mid and senior management levels? Concerns over loss of control, increasing needs to trust people to behave like adults, a mental step change from your directors and senior teams?

As we so often say in our training courses: Feeling comfortable with discomfort is ever more important for all of us in today’s workplace. It’s good to feel uncomfortable, it means we are opening ourselves up to see how we can grow.

Look at Brenee Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability – perhaps that will be a good place to start?

Jaluch offer a complete HR and Training service including HR projects and day-to-day advice and support with grievances, staff issues plus digital blended learning solutions including eLearning, online courses, face-to-face training and the development of training materials for in house use. Please do ask us if you would like support. A few of our more recent clients have been: Freightliner (G&W), Forest Whole Foods, HESA, Agile Business Consortium, Zurich, Langley House Trust, Vector Aerospace and The Eyre Estate – to give you a sense of both the wide range of sectors and sizes of organisations we work with.

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