To think that people can manage themselves is a revolutionary concept for leaders of organizations. And yet there are some businesses doing it quite successfully. How is that even possible? I’ve heard about such organizations and the book by Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness, offers several examples of what happens in self managing teams.

Many managers misunderstand the fundamentals of self-managing organizations and what it takes to make the concept work:

  1. Misperception #1: There is no structure, management or leadership. Self-managing organizations do not replace the pyramid with democratically led consensus. There is instead an interlocking, clearly defined set of structures, processes and practices that inform how teams are set, decisions are made, roles are defined and distributed, salaries are set, people are hired and fired, and so on. All management tasks become the team’s responsibility.
  2. Misperception #2: Everyone is equal. Self-organizing teams circumvent the problems created by unequal distribution of power. People can hold different levels of power, yet everyone can be powerful. It’s not a zero-sum game. The question is not: How can everyone have equal power? It’s rather: How can everyone be powerful? Instead of hierarchies of power and position, there are natural hierarchies of influence.
  3. Misperception #3: It’s about empowerment. There is irony in the phrase “empowering people.” You can empower people only when there’s a hierarchy with an unequal distribution of power. In self-managing organizations, people have power and the freedom and responsibility that go along with it. Every team member is responsible for achieving the organization’s purpose.
  4. Misperception #4: It’s still experimental. Managers and leaders think of self-management as a rare commodity, but it’s actually been proven in both small- and large-scale companies in just about every field. There are several organizational models. W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc. has used self-organizing principles since its founding in the 1950s. Other success stories include Whole Foods Market, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Alcoholics Anonymous, Wikipedia and Linux.

What do you think? What about where you work? Can you envision self-managing teams in your organization? If you think that’s an impossibility, why would it not work?

As always, I’d love to hear what you think. You can contact me here or on LinkedIn.