If you want to take a systemic approach to self management and take your whole company with you, try to think of it as a house renovation.
There’s a lot of potential for chaos and confusion when first implementing a self managed approach to organisational design. It’s a messy system. It’s messy because we humans are messy, emotionally, in our thoughts, in our endless unique differences. Ideally you don’t ever want any of that ‘mess’ to put your organisation at risk.
One of the ways I like to think of an approach to self management is by looking at the company as a house – a house that needs renovation.
The Supporting Walls
A house has retaining and supporting walls – they can be changed or added to but not without serious consideration, proper planning application and ensuring various struts and support beams are added to avoid the house collapsing. Think of these as the essential components of compliance in your business; every thing you have to do to stay in statutory compliance. Accounts, standards, regulatory issues – all come in here. Before you even begun the renovation, you have to identify and understand where making a change will have a risk for your organisation, and put a safe fence around them. It doesn’t mean you can’t change them, but you can’t change your approach to them without serious due diligence.
The Essential Systems
Then you have the systems which run throughout the whole house, affecting every room. Electricity, water, gas, central heating. Each room needs these services, they are central to the whole house. These can be systems that you probably won’t want to disrupt in any way at first, and want to be sure any move towards self management does not have a risk impact on these systems. They could include your enterprise management system, your CRM system for example. Take care to understand how creating a self managing team will interact with those systems without initial disruption.
They can also include major choices such as your legal constitution, whether or not you will put in place Letters of Agreement between collaborators, how you will put in place a coaching system to support the personal development and level of consciousness of your people, or a training programme which helps people acquire valuable skills and knowledge that support self management – things like non-violent communication, clean language, facilitation.
The Rooms – Experimental Playgrounds
Now you have rooms where the fun begins. Rooms can be decorated in an colour. They can be furnished in any way – from shabby chic to industrial modern to a la Provence! They can have any kind of flooring, light fittings, curtains and windows. Rooms represent the different containers in which you first choose to experiment with self management. They can represent departments, countries, stores, teams, experiments themselves – wherever you choose to start. The walls of rooms represent the container for each experiment – how you understand and recognise where the edges of the experiment are, and where the door might allow the impact to ‘leak out’.
The multiple options for each room represent the wide variety of approaches you can take to experimenting. Are you going to start with just one team? What department is the team going to be in? Are you going to start with an experiment on working hours? You may start a project by focusing on a particular customer or employee sector as the Belgian Federal Office of Social Affairs did by selecting people with disabilities, co-workers and local partners. The aim was to figure out how to deliver better service. Around 250 people joined forces for a day to talk about what they wanted to change. You may want to start by ditching annual reviews and moving to a regular practice-based model.
Preparation is Everything
Now any good DIY-er knows that a successful renovation is all in the preparation – whether it’s a whole house or a single door. If you don’t sand that door, wipe down the sanding residue, apply primer and undercoat, and then finally gloss – you’ll get a rubbish finish to the door. In self-management this is critical. Sometimes the preparation phase can take 1-2 years before you are ready to go live.
Build your Toolkit
Finally you have your toolkit. This is essential to fill before starting renovations. There are a lot of skills you’ll want to acquire during your preparation phase. Putting place a programme of personal development, especially working on psychological development is not to be underestimated. The higher the degree of emotional and spiritual intelligence in the workforce, the greater your chances of success.
Work on different forms of open communication – anything from non-violent communications, open space, world cafe, clean language, Bohmian dialogue, will give people methodologies to work with in the future. Put facilitation skills in place, try training in Art of Hosting. Practice especially forms of feedback and think about how you want to put accountability in place. Being deliberately developmental – using methods like Talking Partners, Talking Circles – can be valuable. It helps prepare people for the uncertainty ahead.
So. You’ve got your architects drawings done? You’re ready to rock.