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

Joost Minnaar
Written by Joost Minnaar March 08, 2018

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.


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 in Buurtzorg 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.

What kind of roles does a self-managing team need? Learn from the self-managed teams of #Buurtzorg and their seven different roles.
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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.’

The 7 roles of @Buurtzorg's self-managed teams: (1) the main role, (2) the housekeeper, (3) the informer, (4) the developer, (5) the planner, (6) the team player, and (7) the mentor.
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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!

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Written by Joost Minnaar
Joost Minnaar
Co-founder Corporate Rebels. My daily focus is on research, writing, and anything else related to making work more fun.
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