Posted: 21 Jan. 2021 5 min. read

Predictions 2021: Teams

Organizations will unleash the power of self-organized teams

Most organizations conduct work in teams1, but the ways those teams are managed has evolved. Typically, decisions about how work gets done are determined by leadership and management. But team members and their leaders are relying on empathy, agility, and understanding to foster the trust that helps teams succeed in an unconventional environment. Organizations can empower teams to self-organize—to manage the work and drive outcomes themselves—and sense the presence of these attributes in order to assess the trust and connectedness within a team.2

In 2021, we predict self-organization will be the operating philosophy for team function and performance. The permission for teams to own the when, how, and who of work will become a more prominent approach to improve collective team belonging and empowerment.

Collaboration Beats Competition

Organizations will increasingly promote conditions for self-organized teams, emphasizing the experience of team members and how collective results are achieved as dual measures of success. Our research shows high-performing organizations are 7.7 times more likely to consider teams and workgroups in their work design and 5.6 times more likely to involve the workforce in the design of work itself—cocreating the work with and for workers.3 The following chart shows a comparison of leader-driven and self-organized teams.

Comparison of Leader-Driven and Self-Organized Teams

Leader-Driven Teams

Self-Organized Teams

Leadership determines purpose and outcome.

Teams determine how to achieve desired outcomes based on the stated purpose; leadership provides support and resources that empower teams.

Leadership clearly defines processes for teams.

Teams agree on processes.

Leadership defines decision rights (e.g., RACI).

Teams work with leaders to document decision rights (e.g., RACI) and keep stakeholders informed.4

Leadership decides when and how to add resources.

Teams signal when and how to add resources; leadership reviews and approves.

Leadership assigns specific tasks aligned to the role.

Teams perform tasks fluidly.

Leadership rewards individuals based on performance.

Teams receive recognition and rewards based on collective achievement, in addition to individual awards.

Leadership collects and filters feedback.

Teams solicit and share feedback with members and leadership.

Leaders make all key decisions.

Teams make key decisions; leaders coach teams to understand the impact.

Source: Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2020

Measuring the Impact of Team Belonging

Effective teams work because their members believe they are respected and treated fairly: 93 percent of respondents to our 2020 Human Capital Trends survey agree this sense of respect and fairness—also known as belonging—supports organizational performance.5 The reverse is also true: our research finds individuals view productive moments as essential to a positive workforce experience, and high-performing organizations are significantly more likely to use worker-centric approaches in the design of work and workplaces.Organizations should include measures of engagement and belong in their efforts to gauge team effectiveness.

Peer feedback and sentiment-based metrics that capture feelings of trust, respect, influence, and purpose7 can help assess engagement and belonging. Analytics solutions can measure the inclusivity and participation of team members by exploring the day-to-day connections evidenced in passive meeting and communication data.

Looking Ahead

Our research demonstrates high-performing organizations leverage teams to do work by giving them clear decision rights, autonomy, and a structure that supports their ability to innovate and collaborate.8 Organizations that encourage team belonging will reap the benefits of improved performance and innovation as individuals are empowered to make meaningful and connected contributions.

To get started:
  • Define team-based outcomes and behaviors; then organize teams to foster the behaviors that lead to the desired outcomes.
  • Start thinking beyond the existing processes and individual roles, which will be broken by the nature of this new approach of self-organized teams. Provide a supportive environment for self-organization—and be prepared for failures along the way.  
  • Evaluate and reward team contribution and team belonging in equal proportion to the achievement of individual goals.
  • Foster a sense of belonging through a supportive environment for self-organization, providing appropriate funding, leader support, and freedom to act in a way that encourages collaboration and innovation.

Self-organization is fundamental to emergence. It cultivates individual and team agency that can make work more people-centered and satisfying, teams more agile and customer-focused, and leads to higher performance and the achievement of human potential. 


Julie Hiipakka - Vice President, Learning & Leadership Research Leader

Charu Ratnu - Senior Research Analyst

Matthew Shannon - Senior Research Analyst, Solution Provider Market


1 “Organizational performance: It’s a team sport” from 2019 Deloitte Human Capital Trends: Leading the social enterprise: Reinventing with a human focus, Deloitte Insights / Erica Volini, Jeff Schwartz, and Indranil Roy, 2019.

2 Predictions for 2020: Clarity, Focus, Action!, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2020.

3 Seven Top Findings on Moving from Talent Management to Workforce Architecture, Deloitte Consulting LLP / David Mallon, Nehal Nangia, Mike Kemp, PhD, and Kathi Enderes, PhD, 2020.

4 Getting Decision Rights Right: How Effective Organizational Decision-Making Can Help Boost Performance, Deloitte Insights / Tiffany McDowell and David Mallon, 2020.

5 “Belonging: From comfort to connection to contribution” from 2020 Deloitte Human Capital Trends: The social enterprise at work—Paradox as a path forward, Deloitte Insights / Erica Volini, Jeff Schwartz, and Brad Denny, 2020.

6 Five Top Findings for Elevating Workforce Experience, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Christina Rasieleski and Matthew Deruntz, 2019.

7 Diversity & Inclusion Solutions: Market Capabilities and Differentiators, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Matthew Shannon and Kathi Enderes, PhD, 2020.

8 Designing Adaptability into Organizations, Deloitte Consulting LLP / David Mallon, Timothy Davis, 2019.

Get in touch

Julie Hiipakka

Julie Hiipakka

Vice President | Learning Research Leader

Julie Hiipakka is a leader in our workforce transformation offering focused on skills-based organizations and workforce development. Prior to her current focus on helping clients implement skills-based talent practices, she led the Learning & Leadership research practice for Deloitte Consulting’s Human Capital Research and Sensing offering. She advises clients on learning, workforce architecture, enabling worker and leader performance in the flow of work. A change agent, thought leader and advocate for human-centered work, workforce and workplace practices, Hiipakka has 24 years of experience across learning and development, talent management, and professional services, including as a learning leader in a professional services firm.

Matthew Shannon

Matthew Shannon

Senior Research Analyst | Solution Provider Market

Matthew is senior analyst with Deloitte specializing in solution provider market research. As a corporate research analyst, Matthew brings experience in analyzing organizational, talent, and technology changes to prepare for the future of work. Prior to joining Deloitte, Matthew spent four years researching early adopters of robotics process automation (RPA), including their development processes, staffing changes, and implementation challenges. He currently evaluates established and emerging solutions and vendors in the HR technology space to help corporate buyers better understand and approach the market. Matthew received a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a master of science degree in psychology from Loyola University Maryland.