The challenge of self-organization

Lateral or shared leadership is the keyword here and means that managers hand over a large part of their traditional management tasks to teams of employees and, above all, fulfill a coaching role. As a result, they feel they have less power and control. But the employees can finally do their work in peace. This is the analysis, which we agree with in part. However, we believe it omits two significant aspects that we consider critical to the success of self-organized work.

First, all methods of self-organization are based on maximum commitment to what has been jointly agreed, both in terms of governance and process fidelity. For example, while traditional (high performance) teams have relative freedom in how they achieve results, this is not true of agile teams. Here, process and agreed-upon governance is king. Neither employees nor managers have formal or informal permission space to deviate from it if good results are to be achieved. However, only for two to four weeks.

Because then the second aspect comes into play, which is central to successful self-organization and is part of governance or the process in almost all methods: self-reflection. Reflection often takes place according to certain rules on results, but above all on the way in which the results have been achieved, i.e. on all dimensions of cooperation, e.g. communication, errors, what is missing, roles or functions. Only as a result of this reflection can the process be changed and adapted.

Self-organization thus has little to do with laissez-faire and is based on complete acceptance of and commitment to a given structure. Moreover, self-organization is based on the willingness to work in a highly self-reflective manner, and not only among managers (Zappos, for example-the American model of Zalando-offered severance pay to all employees who could not cope with self-organization so that they would leave the company). Neither of these things is a given in most companies and must be worked on, at both the executive and employee levels. This work takes time, which must be planned for and designed into any transformation program that includes self-organized work.

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