How People Actually Adopt Self-Management

Some think that self-managing workplaces are only a good fit for a certain type of person. Or that people need to be operating at a high “level of consciousness” in order to thrive without a manager.

I think this is hogwash. Our team of 20 has been working without bosses for nearly four years, and we’ve only had two people who couldn’t handle our governing principle of Radical Freedom & Responsibility.

That’s not to say that it’s easy to transition into a self-managing environment. It’s emotionally taxing because it forces inspection of your own ego, fears, and motivations, as you are constantly subjected to feedback and advice which shines a light on your impact.

You can’t hide from the truth in a self-managing environment. And the truth is what unleashes your potential to do your most meaningful work, as well as grow and connect with your co-workers like you never have before.

We’ve noticed that people’s adoption of self-management is more like a journey than an event. It seems to generally follow three stages, which can take anywhere from a few months, to a few years, to get through.

The Three Stages of Self-Management Adoption

1 — The HEAD (intellectual stage)​

Understanding: The “Teal” paradigm of self-management where the organization is an ecosystem, and people are trusted, is very different than most organization’s “Orange” paradigm where the organization is a machine, and humans are resources to be managed. Some people may have come from the “Green” paradigm where the organization is more like a family hierarchy (like B Corps), and all stakeholders (employees, shareholders, customers, community, etc) should benefit. The key here is to understand how self-management is fundamentally different than other organizational paradigms.

Action: Once people understand and willingly accept the expectations of self-management, they lean-in and proactively learn about and experiment with these new practices. At Fitzii, that often means giving and receiving feedback, participating in an advice process, Generative Decision Making (GDM), and various psychological safety, teaming and meeting practices.

Transformation: After understanding the principles of self-management, and then experiencing how practices have been crafted to deliver exceptional growth, fulfillment, connection and productivity, the newbie is sold. They “get it” — meaning they believe in the power and effectiveness of self-management for both personal and organizational development.

2 — The HEART (emotional stage)​

Understanding: Self-management requires a constant, honest and emotionally difficult look at your self in order to serve the team. This paradigm views the organization as an ecosystem which has an evolutionary purpose, and strives for maximum overall health through applying collective intelligence and sense-making. Therefore, each person in the ecosystem also must do the same by seeking out feedback and then getting in touch with their own emotional health, purpose, and yearning for growth.

Action: Once someone understands that self-management is a commitment of self-awareness, introspection, and personal growth, and they feel safe and supported by their colleagues, they begin to proactively seek experiences that expose their deepest desires and fears​. Seen through this lens, the most emotionally difficult practices, like our Role Advice Process, Compensation Advice Process, Finding your Why, and the Conflict Resolution Practice, are terrific opportunities for major realizations, and massive growth spurts. We have also found the Enneagram to be a useful short-cut in locating each person’s deepest fears and motivations, and then treating them accordingly.

Transformation: After facing one or more of their deepest fears and experiencing a major emotional realization (usually tears are involved), the individual connects with their purpose and growth path. They see that the defensive mechanisms of their ego are not needed, and have been preventing the unleashing of their potential growth in this environment. This provides emotional strength and changes their orientation from being primarily focused on their own needs, to serving the needs of the team (of which their needs are a key part that will be taken care of by others). You know you’re past the Heart Stage when you feel a calling and readiness to be a Teal Leader and help others through their emotional transformation.

3 — The HABITS (behavioral stage)​

Understanding: Intellectually and emotionally connecting with the paradigm of self-management is not enough to become the person you want to be. Identity and behavioral change come from the deliberate practice of new habits. Many of your old habits were formed in a different paradigm, and old habits die hard. The key understanding of this final stage is of the need for vulnerability-based leadership, conscious behavior change, and public accountability.

Action: The typical growth path is to declare the root of your fear-based actions, and publicly work on habit change​ by asking for feedback and support when you are hijacked by your ego​ or have succumbed to a negative self-talk spiral. It’s key to become increasingly mindful of these negative loops and reduce the time it takes to catch and transform them into positive thoughts, actions, and feelings.

Transformation: The work of this final stage is a never-ending Hero’s Journey of discovery, challenge, and growth in forming more effective ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. At points there may be need for reinvention, as “what got you here, won’t get you there”. The transformation is relatively constant, but non-linear. People experience big leaps and perhaps even some backward steps, as they face up to deeply personal questions and existential challenges.

While we do have broad agreement within Fitzii that these three stages are generally true and consistent, each person’s experience has been unique like a snowflake.

For anyone curious about the individual experience, here is an interview I did on the Leadermorphis podcast, which dives into my own emotional journey. We also posted a version of this article on the Fitzii blog which at the end includes our employee’s answers to two questions about their adoption of self-management.

If anyone else who works in a self-managing environment has seen similar — or completely different — stages of adoption, I’d LOVE to hear from you in the comments.

Stewarding corp dev at The Ian Martin Group, a self-managed B Corp that helps companies hire better. Love encouraging people to do their most meaningful work.