Your organization already is self-organizing

.. because no organization would work one single day without self-organization.

When I worked in the biggest Austrian bank for 5 years, this was the epitome of old-school hierarchical organization. The Leadership was really bad. I did not understand, how anything worked at all. After a while I found out that it worked out not because of Leadership but despite.

I wanted to scream at the arrogant Top Management every single day, telling them: “You know what? You have NO fckg idea what is going on in your organization. You don’t care. You really believe the organization is working because of your great leadership? But, really, it works despite your really bad leadership. Because people organize themselves and compensate for all your bad decisions. They are the ones helping their old clients, even if you changed your client service for the 3rd time in a row.” 

Sorry to say, but all these discussions about the self-organizing company make me laugh out loudly.  The only explanation I have for this, is that people have no idea about organizations. Maybe they have never worked in a real organization. Perhaps they have always thought about organization. Maybe they have studied organization design.

The only reason things were working was, that people self-organized all the time!! They took their own decisions, they started projects, they arranged meetings to solve problems. They loved their clients and tried to help them despite stupid processes, bureaucracy and stiff hierarchy.

They found work-arounds ALL THE TIME. Because they wanted things to work out, serve clients, change things. Not everybody of course, but more people than we would assume.

Without the self organization energy of people nothing would work. People empower themselves, they constantly took decisions exceeding their own limits. Organizations and people are messy. They take on tasks that are beyond their job descriptions, to make things work. They do not need to call in a meeting to discuss roles. They just do what needed to be done. And there are other people who do not even perform the minimum of their job description. They also muddle their way through.. pretending they are working, this is also self-organizing.

Was it efficient? maybe not. Was it functional? Yes.

This is what is happening. So don’t sell me self organization as the next big thing, It is already happening.

What you can do is give people a great leadership and let people do their work.