Photo by Ian on Unsplash

Three Myths about Self-managing Organisations, Debunked

1. “Self-managing organisations = no structure”

Figure 1: The Buurtzorg Onion Model, source: https://www.buurtzorg.com/about-us/buurtzorgmodel/
  1. Decision-making
  2. Granular roles (vs “traditional” job descriptions)
  3. Information transparency
  4. Performance management (i.e. what does “good” look like and how do you make sure there is regular feedback flow in the system)
  5. Conflict resolution

2. “In a self-managing organisation, there is no leadership and no hierarchy”

“Instead of aiming for self-managing organisations to be leaderless, it’s much more about aiming for them to be leader-ful.”

3. “Self-management means everyone has to agree on (or decide) everything”

  • WL Gore’s sixty-year old “Waterline” principle which states that: “Everyone at Gore consults with other knowledgeable Associates [the Gore term for employees] before taking actions that might be “below the waterline,” causing serious damage to the enterprise”
  • The Advice Process, used by many “teal” organisations, as published in the book “Reinventing Organisations”
  • Consent-based decision-making methods such as those featured in Holacracy, Sociocracy or Percolab’s “Generative Decision Making” process — all of which involve moving forward with a decision (after hearing thoughts and objections) if it’s agreed that it won’t harm the organisation or initiative, or move us backwards
  • How small German fintech company Gini has mapped our their decision-making processes as a self-organising company
Figure 2: The Advice Process, source: https://blog.gini.net/how-we-make-decentralized-decisions-ccd2de61b8b2

In summary

“The most inspiring case studies show us that organisational self-management is a sophisticated and explicit human system which, when executed well, can liberate untapped knowledge, creativity, and energy in our organisations at a time when we desperately need it.”

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Lisa Gill

Founder of Reimaginaire, trainer and coach with Tuff Leadership Training, host of Leadermorphosis podcast.