The 7 Different Team Roles Of Buurtzorg's Successful Self-Managed Teams

Joost
Written by in Practices
- 4 min read

Last Sunday we wrote that self-managing teams are not new—they were already described in the academic literature as early as the 1950s. The blog post created quite a fuss – many thought we opposed this type of "reinventing the wheel". But nothing is further from the truth.

Whether a concept is old or new, as long as it contributes to better workplaces we're fully in favor of it. In fact, there is much to learn from the best-of-class self-managing organizations that successfully put this powerful concept into practice.

Clearly, one of these is Buurtzorg, the Dutch health care organization that employs ~14,000 nurses. And founder, Dutchman Jos de Blok is a poster-child of contemporary self-management thinking. At Buurtzorg, everybody works in an network of small, self-managing teams.

Simplify

Sharda Nandram writes about Buurtzorg in her book, Organizational Innovation by Integrating Simplification – Learning from Buurtzorg Nederland. She describes the ‘self-managed teams of nurses who schedule their own work, recruit new colleagues for their team, and determine the best approach without involvement of a manager or supervisor.’

Buurtzorg’s philosophy is to simplify: to simplify procedures, rules and communication, so as to focus on the best possible care for their clients. They aim to avoid time wasted on irrelevant tasks.

Small self-managing teams

The self-managing teams are supported by regional coaches and a small headquarters. HQ consists of only 50 people or so. It takes care of required client administration, strategic enquiries, contracts, and accounting.

Buurtzorg advocates small teams. There is a norm of a maximum of 12 nurses per team. In reality, teams decide for themselves when to split. Some teams prefer even fewer nurses.

The 7 team roles

These self-managing teams operate autonomously. While they can ask for support from coaches or HQ, they are ultimately responsible for their performance. Within their teams, nurses decide what needs to be done and by whom. This includes any tasks beyond their core nursing roles.

But what kind of roles does a team need? What can we learn from Buurzorg’s methodology? According to Sharda, the self-managed teams have seven different roles:

1. The main role

The main role is the task or job that each employee was primarily hired for—usually serving the needs of customers, clients or users. This means organizing to deliver your core professional contribution to the team and Buurtzorg. And the main task for a nurse is care that meets client wishes.

2. The housekeeper

The housekeeper organizes facilities like the office and technical facilities. He or she regularly updates the team on expenses and budgets.

3. The informer

The informer monitors team productivity. This includes summaries of work delivered, and reports on finances.

4. The developer

The developer cares for collaboration within, and between, teams. The developer also distributes any knowledge he/she gains across the entire team.

5. The planner

The planner plans the time commitments of the team—and makes sure it is aligned with the needs of customers. He/she advises the team of upcoming plans and any anticipated changes.

6. The team player

The team player cares for team dynamics, based on the principle of one for all, all for one. He/she encourages relationships within the team—all with the goals of the team and the organization as the focus.

Team players regularly ask core questions like: “Why are we doing things the way we currently do?” “What are the challenges we face?” “What decisions do we need to take?”

7. The mentor

The mentor takes care of new employees: their introduction, on-boarding and coaching.

Rotating roles

Everyone in the self-managing team holds a main role (the first role). The other six roles are distributed. Team members are encouraged to take those in which they have an interest. But all roles need to be performed in the broader interest of the organization.

There are no fixed arrangements. Teams can distribute roles as best suits them. It is recommended that roles are rotated regularly. According to Sharda: ‘In practice, teams rotate the roles; some twice a year, others less often.‘

Job Enrichment

For many nurses role rotation is seen as job enrichment. Sharda quotes one: ‘Here, at Buurtzorg, we do not have the possibility of career enrichment because our organization is very flat. Enrichment therefore comes from variety in the work, client contacts, and the different team roles.’

By letting employees decide on their team roles, progressive organizations provide people with opportunities to discover new talents and learn new skills. In more traditional organizations, these roles are performed by strangers, somewhere else!

Joost
Written by Joost
2 years ago

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Replies (11)

Albert

Albert

Thanks for sharing, very interesting post. I have some doubts, let me ask about it: the main roles are described in a traditional job description? Or the responsabilities and competences are freely distributed? Thanks for your work Rebels!

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Corporate Rebels

Corporate Rebels

At Buurtzorg the main role is being a nurse. This is not necessarily described as a traditional job description, rather seen as a skill or craftsmanship.The other roles are indeed freely distributed. Hope this answers your questions.

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Albert

Albert

Thank you very much!

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Tom Kenward

Tom Kenward

Hi guys. What’s the difference between developer and team player in this list? The descriptions look pretty similar? Thanks!

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Trudy Sutton

Trudy Sutton

Hi Thank you , i was wondering if this model would work with lower skilled staff ,In Australia we use staff to deliver in home low level services such as showering ect and nurses to deliver wound care ect ?

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Vitaly Gordeev

Vitaly Gordeev

In Amsterdam, you had one "performance monitoring" role - is it the core duty of the "team player"?

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Pim

Pim

Hi Vitaly,

That's the role of the informer as described above. For more information, see: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Organizational-Innovation-Integrating-Simplification-Professionals/dp/3319117246

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ascanio

ascanio

Joost, I have been discussing Buurtzorg's organisation (and that of other white flies like Morning Star, FAVI and Patagonia) over and over with a varied audience. It has struck me that a clear "human readable" definition for Evolutionary Teal Organisations is sort of missing. I mean, "self-managed company" sounds scary and exotic.

I have been thinking of "consortium of free lancers", as a term that may help non-rebels form a constructive idea of the concept, without freaking out.

What do you think about this matter? Have you also found so much resistance to the idea of self-management, even during an informal discussion?

p.s. I had the opportunity to briefly experience participating in a self-managed team of leaders. It is fascinating how much following is equally important as leading, and the fluidity with which leadership can move across a team as called for by the situation!

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ascanio

ascanio

By the way... I have seen pockets of self-management take shape within large enterprises. They will grow around complex technical issues that require multi-disciplinary and cross-departmental collaboration, but that are too mundane to really attract the interest of the general management structure.

It's fascinating to observe how some times "things get somehow done", though nobody knows or cares about how... instead of analysing the magic that takes place in those instances. A bunch of engaged colleagues, naturally forming a network to solve problems and move ahead.

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Joost

Joost

Hi Ascanio,
I can completely relate to you. I also miss a clear "human readable" definition for Evolutionary Teal Organisations. I agree with you on this. I have been working on this for quite a while during my latest academic adventures. Have you read this article? https://corporate-rebels.com/how-to-organize-a-large-organization-without-middle-management/

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