4 Misperceptions About Self-Managing Organizations

Many managers misunderstand the fundamentals of self-managing organizations and what it takes to make the concept work:

  1. Misperception #1: There is no structure, management or leadership. Self-managing organizations do not replace the pyramid with democratically led consensus. There is instead an interlocking, clearly defined set of structures, processes and practices that ¬†inform how teams are set, decisions are made, roles are defined and distributed, salaries are set, people are hired and fired, and so on. All management tasks become the team’s responsibility.
  2. Misperception #2: Everyone is equal. Self-organizing teams circumvent the problems created by unequal distribution of power. People can hold different levels of power, yet everyone can be powerful. It’s not a zero-sum game. The question is not: How can everyone have equal power? It’s rather: How can everyone be powerful? Instead of hierarchies of power and position, there are natural hierarchies of influence.
  3. Misperception #3: It’s about empowerment. There is irony in the phrase “empowering people.” You can empower people only when there’s a hierarchy with an unequal distribution of power. In self-managing organizations, people have power and the freedom and responsibility that go along with it. Every team member is responsible for achieving the organization’s purpose.
  4. Misperception #4: It’s still experimental. Managers and leaders think of self-management as a rare commodity, but it’s actually been proven in both small- and large-scale companies in just about every field. There are several organizational models. W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc. has used self-organizing principles since its founding in the 1950s. Other success stories include Whole Foods Market, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Alcoholics Anonymous, Wikipedia and Linux.

What do you think? What about where you work? Can you envision self-managing teams in your organization? If you think that’s an impossibility, why would it not work?

I’d love to hear from you; you can contact me here and on LinkedIn.

What Leaders Can Do to Become More Trustworthy

I’ve been reflecting on Barbara Kellerman’s book “The End of Leadership”. Everyone has at one time in their career had to endure a truly bad boss. What can we be aware of to ensure we don’t fall into the trap of becoming a bad leader ourselves?
Leaders can become more effective and ethical by following these steps:
o Limit tenure in positions of power; share power.
o Don’t believe your own hype; get and stay real.
o Compensate for your weaknesses by hiring and delegating well.
o Stay balanced and healthy.
o Remember the mission.
o Develop a personal support system (mentor, advisor, coach, best friend).
o Establish a culture of openness in which diversity and dissent are encouraged.
o Be creative, reflective and flexible.
o Avoid groupthink; ask the right kinds of questions.
o Question assumptions; get reliable and complete information.
o Establish checks and balances.
Most of these are issues come up in the coaching sessions I have with executives. There are a lot of steps one can take to avoid falling into the power-traps of leadership.
What Followers Can Do
If bad leaders are to be stopped or slowed, followers must play a bigger part. Everyone is a follower no matter what your position in an organization.
But many followers consider the price of intervention to be too high. There are real benefits for going along, along with real costs and risks for not going along. We often choose to mind our own business. Nevertheless, incompetent and unethical leaders cannot function without followers.
Kellerman suggests followers can strengthen their ability to resist bad leaders by observing these guidelines:
o Empower yourself.
o Be loyal to the whole, not to any one person.
o Be skeptical; leaders are not gods.
o Find allies; develop your own sources of information.
o Be a watchdog (especially if the board seems too compliant).
o Take collective action (even on a modest scale, such as assembling a small group to talk to the boss).
o Hold leaders accountable; use checks and balances already in place.
Luckily, more followers are stepping up to the plate, demonstrating a willingness to share responsibilities, power, authority and influence. They know that once bad leaders are entrenched, they seldom change or quit of their own volition. It’s up to us to insist on change – or an early exit.
The path to exercising empowerment is often full of dangers, and I recommend not going it alone. Having a trusted coach can help you take the road less traveled.
What’s your opinion?