Productive self managing teams rarely happen spontaneously. Companies need ground rules to make them work well. I’ve been curious about a relatively new method some companies are using to motivate and manage people: let them organize themselves.

Frederic Laloux in 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.

  • No Boss: Teams of typically 10 to 12 members deal with all management tasks. They set direction and priorities, analyze problems, make plans, evaluate performance and make decisions. Their success depends on adequate training, coaching and tools. Teams have a set process for exploring decisions and solutions.
  • No Middle Management: No boss exists within the team, nor are there regional managers or a pyramid. Some organizations make coaches available when a team gets stuck. Teams are responsible for finding their way around problems. They delegate tasks widely among themselves and must appraise each other.
  • No Staff Functions: Only a few people handle staff functions like HR and billing, and they have no decision-making responsibilities. They serve to support the teams, when requested.
  • Talent Management: People rate themselves and each other, adjusting tasks according to individual strengths. They even set their own salaries according to a predefined rating system. This process ensures everyone feels valued. There are no incentives except for companywide bonuses, reducing compensation inequality and creating greater fairness.

Motivating People

Here’s something that might just be contributing to the high levels of worker disengagement. In June 2015, CEOs of Fortune 50 companies took home a staggering 300 times the median pay of their employees, according to CNNMoney. This gap has increased with each decade.

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

In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel H. Pink argues that self-management/self-directed processes, mastery, worker autonomy and purpose (intrinsic rewards) are much more effective incentives than monetary gain (extrinsic rewards).

For most 21st-century workers, self-management and related intrinsic incentives are far more crucial than outdated notions of hierarchical management and an over-reliance on monetary compensation as reward.

As Laloux notes:

It is the way life has operated in the world for billions of years, bringing forth creatures and ecosystems so magnificent and complex we can hardly comprehend them. Self-organization is the life force of the world, thriving on the edge of chaos with just enough order to funnel its energy, but not so much as to slow down adaptation and learning.

If nature is self-organizing, why can’t we use the same principles when working together? Are we ready to move beyond rigid structures and processes? Can we allow people to find their own solutions? These are big questions to think about.

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