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Opening Space for Self-Management

Posted 14 November, 2015 · Add Comment

This was first published in LinkedIn Pulse on 22 October 2015

Opening Space for Self-Management

Self-organisation in Action

Self-managing teams, organisations or systems, also referred to as ‘teal’, could become the next management fad. As more organisations are intrigued by the concept, largely introduced by Frederick Laloux’s book Reinventing Organisations, more and more managers, coaches and consultants will no doubt show up as “experts in self-management”. Yet if self-management is to be true to its principles, by definition there will be no need for managers or consultants. Certainly not the sort who micro-manage or control, for sure. So as more and more managers introduce self-management there is a danger that it becomes an empty meaningless concept, which will then go out of fashion as quickly as it came in. This would be a pity. It is important to distinguish between a superficial linear fad and the transformative power from curved ‘letting go and letting come’ emergence. Self-organisation works best for pull demand-driven value creation, rather than the conventional push value extraction found in most current management thinking.

Some organisations may recognise this and seek help in implementing genuine self-management.  As the world becomes more complex, ambiguous and unpredictable, so a more organic approach is required.   Many organisations may try to move towards self-management as its organising principle, and will seek guidance in implementation. There is a paradox, however, in that it is an oxymoron to “manage” the implementation of self-management.   What you can do, however, is enable it. There is a role for leaders, a more facilitative role, one of enablers. This means creating the right conditions for self-management to unfold. The ‘right conditions’ may involve spatial, temporal, conceptual, educational and attitudinal elements, involving for example transparency, self-determination and especially giving staff the tools to self-manage in peer-centred autonomous iterative environments. New collaborative tools will be needed, such as shared decision-making and responsibility, lean-flow operations (pull-based value flow), kaizen, plasticity learning, and many more participatory or facilitated elements.

Towns and cities are self-organised, and tend to thrive in energy and innovation. At the centre of all movements and transactions in cities are the markets or the market place. Most things in towns resolve around the market place. Even the internet centres around virtual market-places, which are completely self-organised. The market place is also at the heart of Open Space Technology, a self-organising system for running high performance transactions, interactions and deep conversations. Open Space is based on transparency, synchronicity, connectivity, serendipity and conversational leadership emerging out of an ‘open space’ market-place. While Open Space Technology, celebrating its 30thanniversary this year, has long been applied as a way or running large meetings and deliberations, its founder, Harrison Owen, has always argued that Open Space is applicable beyond ‘unconferences’, and that the principle of self-organisation should be the backbone principle of managing any organisation. In his book Wave Rider (Leadership for High Performance in a Self-organizing World) he extols the virtues of emergence through self-management. Increasingly Open Space Technology, which is the format used for Shift events, will indeed be seen as a central approach to both implementing self-management as well as a tool for complex problem-solving, accelerated learning and ultimately for organisational transformation. Open Space may become a central ingredient to self-organisation in action.

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