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A self-directed work team (SDWT) is a group of people, usually employees in a company, who combine different skills and talents to work without the usual managerial supervision toward a common purpose or goal. Typically, an SDWT has somewhere between two and 25 members. An optimal SDWT is said to be between five and nine members. An SDWT is similar to a skunkworks except that an SDWT is not temporary and is not limited to a single project.
SDWT members use their company's mission statement to develop their purpose, which must be meaningful and beneficial to the company. Purposes might include problem solving, increasing sales and productivity, career training, and product improvement.
SDWT members must decide how they want to work together. Because a manager or boss does not lead, they must agree on the rules and deadlines for accomplishing their purpose. Some teams create a charter or set of rules that describe what is expected of each member. If a problem arises during the course of a project, the team members work together to provide a solution.
In order for an SDWT to succeed, the company or organization must provide a meaningful mission statement to the team, empower the team to do what it needs to do including making important decisions, support the team, establish and provide the boundaries, rules, and company policies, and train the members with the skills and knowledge needed to accomplish their purpose. But, in the end, the team is held accountable for the success or failure of a project.
Federal Express is an example of a company that use self-directed work teams.