Like many others, we read and talked a lot about the book Reinventing Organizations at Stylight last year. From the conversations and experiences I had, and from what I read from others, it seems to me that the concept of self-management is the one that is most misunderstood about teal organizations.

Is there no management and no structure in self-managed organizations?

Management exists to coordinate individual efforts of groups of people to accomplish common goals effectively. This is still true for self-managed organizations. People value guidance, stability, and certainty. Central control and uniformity were invented to leverage economies of scale, which was a big improvement at the time. With changes in the type of work, the economy and people’s needs, it led to low motivation among employees and a decision-making process that is not fast enough anymore.

How is self-management different to hierarchical management?

Self-management doesn’t mean “no management”, but rather inclusive management. Management that people can influence and take part in.
Management that doesn’t define itself by giving someone power over someone else. There is management in self-managed organizations, just without the centralized role of a manager.

What are specific changes compared to hierarchical management?

Self-managed organizations don’t exercise the control part of management, like approving vacation time, because they trust employees to make informed decisions. They do, however, keep the leadership and support part of management. In many ways, self-managed organizations need to have clearer structures and processes, because everyone needs to understand them. Often, people think about self-management on an individual level and get rid of all support structures in the process. This leads to uncertainty and chaos. But really, self-management is about teams. A group of people, that collaborate to achieve a common goal and hold each other accountable.

Who fulfills the management function?

In self-managed organizations, management is not a role that is appointed from up the hierarchy. People with the respective skills and interests fulfill management functions as chosen by their peers. Let me give you an example. In a hierarchical organization, new employees get hired into a department and report to its manager, who is giving them feedback and guidance. In a self-managed organization, people choose mentors and peer groups themselves to fulfill this function. This creates a fluid hierarchy of recognition.

Frederic Laloux, the author of Reinventing Organizations, compiled an insightful list of 4 misperceptions of self-management that is worth reading.

How about you?

What is your experience with self-management?  How do you deal with the misconceptions above? Or do you think, they are not misconceptions at all? Let us know in the comments.

Photo by Sven Scheuermeier

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Agile and Lean partisan, developer, coach, web fanboy, rock climber, coffee snob

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