Photo courtesy to Zuca Lanon.

Self-Organization Isn’t Just About the Self

Why Teams and Individuals Are Equally Important to Organizations

For your team to be successful, it isn’t enough to hire a bunch of individual superstars.

At The Ready, one of our current strategy statements is:

“Working Together Even Over Individual Excellence”

I work with exceptionally smart people. We’re all individually capable of doing amazing work and really know how to own the projects that we are accountable for.

If you work in a self-organized company like I do, you might agree on how you and your colleagues have to be excellent at self-managing. This means having sharp work habits, self-awareness, and self-efficacy. But our strategy statement serves as a reminder that we need to do more than crush it on our own work. We have to crush it as a team, too.

The Importance of Teamwork in Self-Organization

A company that is comprised of people who only work individually would be no better than a company that is siloed.

There is no shortage of research and stories on the importance of organizations having strong teams. Project Aristotle, Google’s recent well-renowned research project, has discovered some solid insight about what makes the ideal team. After dividing 699 people into small groups to complete a series of assignments, Project Aristotle found that the best teams embodied two specific behaviors:

  1. Every team member spoke about the same amount. The researchers called this “equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.”
  2. The ability to read how others feel based on nonverbal cues. The researchers called this “high average social sensitivity.”

As Charles Duhigg notes, Google’s top executives believed that combining the best people is surefire to creating the best team. But Project Aristotle found that the team members’ skills, backgrounds, and personality traits (such as conscientiousness — a validated predictor of job performance) did not affect team success at all. Whether the team had the highest performers didn’t matter.

The good news is that the perfect team doesn’t need five Steph Currys.

I think this idea is especially important for a self-organized company.

In Holacracy, for instance, a big intention of Tactical and Governance meetings is to allow everyone equal opportunity to speak their mind and suggest changes without sacrificing the agility of the decision-making. Dominant voices are prevented from taking over the discussion and those more shy have the opportunity to voice their thoughts. Everyone’s voices have equal footing — exactly Project Aristotle’s Successful Team Behavior # 1.

If teamwork wasn’t crucial to self-organization, why else would there be an innumerable amount of literature on teamwork in a complex world? And what else would explain the emergence of self-managed teams?

This doesn’t mean organizations shouldn’t have individual superstars, though. Surely there must be balance.

The Importance of Managing Yourself in Self-Organization

As much as a self-organized company needs its teams to self-manage, it also needs its people to manage themselves.

Say you’re currently hiring for your self-organized company, where people have complete autonomy over when, where, and how they get their work done. And say you hired people who don’t know how to prioritize, prefer not to make decisions for themselves, and can’t empathize (heaven forbid). Imagine how wrong it would be for these people to work in a self-organized company. As Devhouse Spindle put it, how would you prevent these people from buying Playstations and slacking off?!

Of course, this scenario is a huge exaggeration. People have much better judgment than to play video games all day at work (although some companies in Silicon Valley that interpret video games as “culture” are cutting it close).

“This is amazing. I feel like I’m in Minority Report.” — Dinesh, Silicon Valley S03E02

In a self-organized company — or any company, really — you shouldn’t settle for any less than to hire the best. Because these are people you will trust to run the company with. People who will give you the toughest feedback when you need it, and the deepest admiration when you least expect it. People who will continually motivate you to do your best work as they consistently put in theirs. So why not comprise your team of individual superstars?


My working hypothesis is this:

For a company to truly achieve self-organization, it must self-manage on a team and an individual level.

Teams and individuals are equally important to our organizations, self-organized or not. Because for an organization to fulfill its mission and do meaningful, impactful work, our teams must collaborate at their best and our people must be at their best.

The world doesn’t deserve any less.


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