Self-managed organisations are a relatively new phenomenon in business. Appearing also under names like Holacracy, Sociocracy, or Teal, self-managed business structures are generally flatter in design, with a series of teams who executive the primary business process supported by the rest of the organisation rather than traditional hierarchies and silo-managed departments. Although the concept has been lurking around management theory for several decades, it’s only more recently that we have begun to see more and more start-ups structuring their businesses this way.
During my research for Activation, I interviewed as many different self-managed businesses as I could to try to understand exactly what the key benefits of implementing this model are. Because it isn’t easy. It requires real planning, skill and long-term commitment to really leverage the benefits (more of how to do it in other posts!)
So what are the top benefits of self-management?
A Consciousness Accelerator
Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the number one benefit I have seen. The most remarkable thing about implementing the structure is that it facilitates and accelerates the shift in consciousness of those involved. It does that by ‘forcing’ people to confront all of the shadow issues that lie behind an ego-centred level of consciousness. It’s a difficult and painful process – whether you’re doing it through a self-managed business or not – and it is not for everyone. Many souls do not ever want to go past the first tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and are content without plunging into the challenge of second tier consciousness. But if you are ready to act – self-management structures unquestionably help you on that path.
True Self Responsibility
A natural part of putting yourself into a consciousness accelerator is developing true self responsibility. Where you work at your personal self development and become the best possible version of yourself you can be. When the constraints of the ego are mastered. You take total responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, actions. You learn courage and conviction.
Creative Thinking & Innovation
You have to work harder at creative thinking and problem solving, because you can’t hand the responsibility back to a more senior manager, as you would in a traditional hierarchy. Every single one of the companies I visited have gone on to create new companies, new offshoots as well as completely new businesses. All because the individuals have learned the confidence and courage to be entrepreneurial. They have developed The Opportunity Mindset.
Autonomy + Freedom = Accountability
Within the framework that’s laid out, and aligned to the organisational mission, individuals who works in self-managed teams have much more autonomy and freedom to act. Yes, there is the freedom to decide your own salary. Yes, there is the freedom to decide how you will work and when. Yes, there is the freedom to decide what work you want to do, and leverage your own unique talents. Yes, there are choices about when you will take leave instead of rigorous annual leave rules. But they don’t come without a trade-off. You sign a commitment to your colleagues and your company about your responsibilities that clearly outlines what you will deliver. So you can’t simply swan off for 12 weeks holiday if that damages your colleagues and the business. You have to find a solution that works, and sometimes you also have to pay for it. With autonomy and freedom comes radical responsibility.
This is a world of no secrets. No hidden agendas and no politicking. In self-managed businesses people learn to share knowledge and resources. No-one hangs onto a juicy bit of information because it might make them look better than someone else or because they fear that if others have that knowledge there might be more competition for them. In knowing the financial status of the company in detail, everyone is much more invested in the success or failure of the company. When everyone knows what everyone else is doing and what their commitments are, they all pull together towards the company mission much more easily.
When you can drop the neo-Darwinian idea that competition is necessary for survival, you open up a collaborative mindset which means can you ask another team (and often another business) for help. You can temporarily recruit a member of another team who might do a task better than your team. It’s completely up to you how you put your teams together for each piece of work you are going to do. This attitude seems to open up self-managed organisations to strategic collaborations with other businesses, especially where there is a critical performance issue to be tackled. Like finding one single plastic for the whole world.
Because there are few text books or case studies for this next step in organisational design, it becomes an experiment to implement it. Everything gets discussed and tested. Organisational design is an iterative learning process. A key benefit of operating in experimentation mode, is that you learn to be comfortable with uncertainty – like most entrepreneurs do with their eyes closed. With an experimentation culture you design an organisation generatively, just like nature does.
To build the kind of relationships that truly foster collaboration and team building, you have to work on your communications skills. Emotional intelligence is key, but spiritual intelligence is also important. Great leaders in self-managed businesses understand the different communications patterns, behaviour and language of people with different worldviews, different cultural heritage, as well as being sensitive to gender, character and personality.
Being an empathetic communicator is hard work. It’s a study of the different ways in which people lead, make decisions, give feedback, give trust, persuade, disagree, and even how they value time. It’s a study of the nuances of gender communications; and knowing how to build a team of different characters and personalities, skills and talents. Personality and skills profiling is probably the most advanced knowledge in business, but consciousness and cultural intelligence is still lagging behind.
Leaders of self-managed businesses aren’t leading as heroes having to be right all the time, having to know everything, cracking and crippled under the pressure of leadership. They are leaders who are hosting people in teams, helping them become the best versions of themselves they can be and in the process developing companies that people want to work in, want to work with and that work with the needs of people and planet. They have a deep personal commitment to spiritual development.
When you’re comfortable with uncertainty, you develop a different kind of ‘knowing’ that’s not about statistics and data, but a deep knowing inside that you can solve most problems you are confronted with. Then you’re a resilient individual in a resilient business. When you know you have a supportive team around you, not one where people are secretly hoping you’re going to fail so that they get the promotion, where you can be supported even when things might not be going to sell for you, you have a resilient team.
If this all sounds tough, it’s because it is. It’s hard to grow up. What it takes to achieve this is mastery of the ego. And what I’ve found is that when you’ve mastered the ego – not eradicated it – because we all need one – you can’t look at life in a hierarchical way any longer. You might struggle with this new worldview a little bit, you might feel like a fish out of water at times, but you can no longer look at another human being and think I’m better, he’s worse. You gain empathy and understanding.
You can no longer look at nature and not see the interconnected relationships between us and the ecosystem that surrounds us, and so you can’t deplete and destroy it. You no longer need things to numb the pain of not confronting yourself, your weaknesses and challenges and working through that pain to be better – you don’t need alcohol, obesity, drugs because you respect yourself and your place within the world we’re lucky enough to call home. You have the courage of your convictions, you can have hard conversations with out rancour and aggressive, you know the ones to have and not to have, you learn who to trust and how to give trust.
Doesn’t that feel worth the struggle?