Succesfactors of a self-learning organization

By Marijke ten Have

Self-Organization: Finding the Right Balance

Self-organization is a trending concept, and rightfully so. Self-organizing teams can offer an effective response to the need for a more efficient organization. However, success in self-organization depends on factors such as time, trust, and safety.

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Self-organizing or self-managing?

These terms are often used interchangeably, but there is a clear distinction. A self-managing team independently sets team goals, frameworks, and evaluates itself within the overall organizational guidelines. Self-organizing teams, on the other hand, have predefined overarching goals and frameworks. Within these boundaries, the team determines daily tasks, goals, and its own structure. In a self-managing team, there's no team leader – each member shares equal responsibility. In a self-organizing team, leadership takes a back seat; their role is to facilitate the team's achievement of its goals. The leader aids in optimizing the work process, acts as a sounding board, and periodically assesses achieved outcomes.

Which is better: Self-managing or self-organizing teams?

It depends. The level of self-organization must primarily align with the team. Starting teams often aren't ready for self-management. In these cases, players, regardless of their age, usually require clear frameworks within which team members can take ownership. It's equally crucial for the organization itself to be prepared for self-management. This could entail transitioning from a top-down to a more bottom-up organizational structure.

Success factors for self-organizing teams

  • Time: Time is the foremost success factor for establishing self-organizing teams. It takes time and continuous interaction between the organization, team, and individuals.
  • Trust: A crucial factor is trust. Teams need to earn trust from the upper echelons of the organization. Executives and managers must undergo the same cultural shift as employees to drive change.
  • Safety: Finally, a safe working environment is crucial – one where employees address each other's behavior. Sharing mistakes, asking questions, and celebrating successes within the team strengthen its resilience.

Self-organizing teams: A means, not an end

Creating self-organizing teams isn't an end goal in itself. It's a means to shape the organization and ensure continuity. The extent and nature of self-organization must align with the organization, employees, customers, and the types of products or services offered. Self-organization as a means also complements an Agile way of working. Curious to know more? Explore our perspective on our website to Highberg for further discussions on self-organization or Agile working!

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