Self-Management: The Future of
Working Together?

Self-ManagementIs it even possible to run a 7,000 person business using self-management principles? Apparently yes, and quite successfully.

If we’re going to successfully reinvent organizations for the future, we need to take a serious look at the way we manage people and work together. As Einstein saw it, we can’t solve problems using the same level of consciousness with which we created them. Is there a way to work together so that everyone’s engaged and contributing? What are the structures and processes that can make self-managing organizations possible?

In Frederic Laloux’s book Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness (Nelson Parker, 2014), the author studied a dozen businesses that have been operating on what’s called Evolutionary-Teal principles. These case studies reveal the structures and processes used to make self-management work.

Productive self-management rarely happens spontaneously. Ground rules are needed to make it work in practice. And in Laloux’s research, there were several companies with different ground rules, depending on their size, value chains, and needs. He examined both for-profit and non-profits, large and small, and service as well as manufacturing businesses.

Here is an example of self-managing principles using ground rules:

  • No Boss: Teams are typically 10 to 12 members who deal with all management tasks themselves. They set direction, priorities, analyze problems, make plans, evaluate performance and make decisions. In order for this to work, there has to be adequate training, coaching and tools. There is a set process for exploring decisions and solutions.
  • No Middle Management: There is no boss within the team either. There are no regional managers. There is no pyramid. Some organizations have coaches available when a team gets stuck. Teams truly are responsible for finding their way around problems. Teams delegate tasks widely among themselves. They must appraise each other.
  • No Staff Functions: There are very few people who handle staff functions (HR, billing, etc.) but when there are, they have no decision responsibility. They serve to support the teams when requested.
  • Talent Management: People rate themselves, rate each other, and make adjustments in tasks according to strengths. They even set salaries for themselves according to a predefined rating system. The process makes sure everybody feels valued and their inner and outer perspectives are in sync. There are no incentives but company-wide bonuses. As a result there is less compensation inequality and more sense of fairness.

CNNMoney calculates that in June 2015 CEOs of Fortune 50 companies took home on average a staggering 300 times the median pay of employees in their company. This gap keeps increasing with each decade and yet we wonder about disengagement among front-line workers.

Leading scientists believe that the principal science of the next century will be the study of complex, autocatalytic, self-organizing, non-linear and adaptive systems. ~ Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations.

In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel H. Pink argues on the basis of empirical evidence that self-management/self-directed processes, mastery, worker autonomy and purpose (defined as intrinsic rewards) are much more effective incentives than monetary gain (extrinsic rewards). According to Pink, for the vast majority of work in the 21st century, self-management and related intrinsic incentives are far more crucial than outdated notions of hierarchical management and an over-reliance on monetary compensation as reward.

I think there’s a lot to learn about the best ways to run organizations, and self-management presents some fascinating ideas and challenges. What do you think? Can you see your company using it? Let’s talk. You can contact me here and on LinkedIn.

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