How to Setup Self-Directed Teams


Self-directed teams are becoming more popular in project management, particularly with the rise of agile and collaborative teams. Here’s how to set up a self-directed team at your org, with Jennifer Bridges, PMP.

Here’s a shot of the whiteboard for your reference!

What characteristics are essential for setting up self-directed teams

In Review – How to Setup Self-Directed Teams

Jennifer noted that self-directed teams have been around for a while. It’s likely that you’ve participated in one. If you have, then you know some self-directed teams work better than others, and the team management guidelines for these self-directed teams vary from organization to organization.

What Are Self-Directed Teams?

Before going into the hows of setting up a self-directed team, let’s take a moment to make sure we all understand the definition of a self-directed team.

A self-directed team is not that dissimilar from any team you might assemble for a project. However, in traditional project management methodologies, there is a tendency toward top-down management processes. This approach has been challenged with the rise of agile project management, as more teams prefer collaborative, self-directed approaches to top-down directives.

Like typical project teams, self-directed teams consist of a group of skilled professionals, often employees of the same company, whether in one location or distributed. But a self-directed team is different in that these teams are designed to bring together cross-functional individuals or groups, each with their own specific field of expertise. Often self-directed teams are designed to tackle particular processes or initiatives, like defining a new strategy or kicking off new products, to name just a couple of examples. As such, these individuals with different skills then work towards a common purpose or goal without the usual managerial supervision and instead rely on effective communication between departments or expert teams.

Because collaboration is so important to the success of a self-directed team, having the right collaboration tools is absolutely critical. Consider a project management software with collaboration tools or group messaging apps so self-directed teams can be in touch at all times, no matter where they are located.

Jennifer noted that each member of the team will contribute their expertise to the team and that helps the others learn from their experience. This exchange of expertise can be heightened with the proper communication tools. However, even with excellent communication tools, self-directed teams will still meet regularly to discuss the status of the project, because there isn’t a typical project manager guiding the project.

Characteristics of Successful Self-Directed Teams

When you’re setting up a self-directed team, you’re going to want certain characteristics to make sure that the team members work together productively. The following four characteristics are crucial to assembling an efficient and effective team.

  1. Joint Responsibility: Each team member is responsible for their area of expertise. They are fully invested in maintaining their part of the project and must hold it up themselves. That part of the project’s success rests solely on their shoulders.
  2. Interdependence: Because each team member is responsible for a specific aspect of the project, team members must fully trust that their teammates will deliver on their assigned tasks, as their own work is dependent on the completion of their teammate’s tasks. All team members might be self-directed in their work, but their tasks are related to one another and must work harmoniously.
  3. Empowerment: The oil that greases the self-directed team is autonomy. Each team member, being an expert in their field, must have the power to pull the trigger. They must be able to proceed without having to go through an approval process that will only slow them and the project down. This efficiency is part of the positive thrust for self-directed teams.
  4. Common Goal: The key concept behind a successful self-directed team is that they are working independently but on a common goal. If this isn’t established, then the many moving parts will fail to unite and achieve that goal. Therefore, it’s critical from the beginning that the team is aware of that common goal.

Pro-Tip: While self-directed teams are independent and often feel as if they’re isolated and not in contact with other team members, communication is still the key in keeping all parties aware of where they are and when they’re needed. Learning good communications patterns for your team will facilitate the success of your self-directed team.

Take it further: If you’re looking to set up self-directed teams, as part of a shift to Agile methodology, read our Ultimate Guide to Agile.


Today, we’re talking about how to set up self-directed teams. Well, self-directed teams have been around for a long time and you may have participated in one yourself.

I know I’ve seen some and participated in some that have worked better than others, and many corporations have their own guidelines for the teams that they set up for self-directed teams.

So, today what I want to do is give an example of what one looks like, and then I want to talk about some characteristics that really make them work.

So, an example of a self-directed team is, there’s a specific project, and then you have different departments that are contributing or represented on this project.

For example, you may have a department called consumer products. You may also have the information technology department, maybe even the marketing, the legal, and customer service.

So, they’re all collaborating on this specific project and maybe they’re working together to develop a new product. Maybe they’re initiating a product launch or designing a process.

So, with the self-directed team, each team member contributes their specific expertise with the team and then they all learn from each other. Then they meet regularly to discuss the status of the project, but here are the characteristics that are found that are required to succeed.

So, there are four. So the first one is joint responsibility. So, each person has a responsibility for their area or their domain, and then they all are fully invested to contribute towards the success of the project.

There’s interdependence, so they all rely on each other, and they’ve got to trust that each one is going to complete and deliver their work product as scheduled so they won’t impact negatively the others.

So, there’s also empowerment, which is really important, and what this means is, they can proceed without having to go through and get special approvals from committees and upper management. Then, they all are working towards a common goal for that specific project.

So, these are some of the characteristics that can make self-directed teams work and if you need a tool to help with your self-directed team, then sign up for our software now at