How Self-selection Allows People to Excel

06 Mar

Post by Christian Milam

Posted in: Business Development Consulting, General, Human Resource

How Self-selection Allows People to Excel


Anyone who has been a part of a team can recognise improvement in overall performance. Particularly, when all the team members get along with one another and are committed to, and enthusiastic, about a shared goal or target. This creates high-performing teams with members who are able to balance team dynamics, and individual personalities, in order to work successfully.

Self-selection is a method that allows people to choose which team to work in. It is a facilitated process that lets people self-organise into small, cross-functional teams. It is considered to be the fastest, and most efficient, way to form stable teams, and is based on a belief that people are at their happiest, and most productive, if they can choose what they work on, and who they work with. Essentially, it honours the principle of trusting people to be responsible adults, who can solve complex problems and organise themselves in a way that is best for the organisation and the team.

Team design: Managerial selection versus Self-selection

Team design is the most important factor in determining its performance. Designing a team doesn’t necessarily mean picking all the best people – it means identifying the best combination of people, based on their interdependent skills, preferences and personalities.

Managerial selection is the traditional way of deciding who should be in which team – a practice followed by most organisations today. Managers design teams based on knowledge of their employees’ skills, personalities and interpersonal dynamics. This tends to work well within small companies because a good manager is aware of relationships between people and understands their preferences. However, this model breaks down if the organisation’s size increases, as it can become difficult for the manager to keep up with the intricacies of relationships between people, and their individual preferences.

In contrast, self-selection allows people to pick the teams they want to work with. This is not a new or particularly novel idea. Leo McKinstry described one of the earliest and most successful self-selections on a large scale,in his 2009 book Lancaster – The Second World War’s Greatest Bomber. During World War II, new flight crews had to be formed after short training periods –  the creative solution to forming these teams quickly and efficiently was self-selection. The result was one of the most effective teams in the history of war. A key element to success in the self-selection process is the rinse and repeat function – this allows people to select and then reflect on the decision, to assess if their choice will be successful, within a long-term strategy.

Effective communication: The key to success

Communication plays a crucial role here – it might even be the single most important element to success. Creating an effective communication strategy is the difference between self-selection succeeding or failing. There will always be doubts and questions – all perfectly normal – but being honest, proactive and clear at this stage goes a long way in assuaging them. Other key factors that ensure effective communication include:

  • Talk to as many people as possible, ahead of the task on hand
  • Actively listen to concerns and be patient with people, while they work through their fears
  • Paint an honest picture outlining the worst-case scenario, which is rarely as bad as people tend to think
  • Talk to people collectively, and individually – in regards to where they think they should be placed

Results of self-selection

If you take all this into consideration, self-selection can go a long way in positively impacting an organisation. Some of the results of this process are: –

  1. People naturally form small cross-functional teams: Team sizes tend to be between three and six people, with the team composition based on skill, rather than designation within the organisation. People who are good at collaborating tend to be in high demand.
  2. No one chooses to work on more than one team or project: Organisations typically fall into the trap of optimising resources, rather than focusing on outcomes. Multi-tasking and having the same people work across several projects is not the key to success. People tend to prefer focusing on one task or project at a time, which usually leads to better results.
  3. People communicate face-to-face: There are fewer arguments and less dissent due to reduced group size, and the fact team members have been self-chosen. People are more open to talking, co-ordinating and collaborating, which helps smooth the work process.
  4. Ease of shared goals: When people are aligned to shared goals and know which problem they’re solving and why, the process becomes a lot easier. When people understand and support the objectives and constraints around a project or product, it is easier for the team to reach a consensus and make decisions

The Working Futures event on 23rd March will discuss some of these topics and many more! Held at the Business Design Centre in London – to register please contact Clive Frake: Tel: 0203 752 5254