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Self-Organisation: The Irresistible Future of Work

Why do so many organisations feel discouraged and fearful about the future – a legacy of the pandemic? Why does despair only increase as the fads fly by, shorter in duration, more costly in their attempts? Why have the best efforts to create significant and enduring organisational change resulted in so many failures? We, and our organisations, exist in a world of constant evolutionary activity. Why has change become so unnatural in human organisations? The pandemic acceleration toward work from home has ebbed. The compromise, increasingly, is a hybrid that blends in-person and remote teams.

New Normal These days, a different ideal for organisations is surfacing. We want organisations to be adaptive, flexible, self-renewing, learning, and intelligent. These attributes are to be found only in living systems. The tension of our times is that we want our organisations to behave as living systems, but we only know how to treat them as machines. In fact, organisations are living systems. All living systems have the capacity to self-organise, to sustain themselves and move toward greater complexity and order as needed. They can respond intelligently to the need for change. Self-organising systems have what all leaders crave: the capacity to respond continuously to change. In these systems, change is the organising force, not a problematic intrusion. Structures and solutions are temporary. Resources and people come together to create new initiates, to respond to challenges, new regulations, to shift the organisation’s processes. Leaders emerge from the needs of the moment. There are far fewer levels of management. Local solutions predominate but are kept local. Involvement and participation constantly deepen. Self-organisation offers hope for a simpler and more effective way to accomplish work.

Teaming – The fast track of self-organisation and teamwork.  It represents a new much more flexible way of working in a team to carry out interdependent tasks with shared and distributed leadership. To excel in this complex and uncertain, forever changing business environment, people need to both work and learn together. Teaming blends relating to the differences of people effectively, listening to other points of view, coordinating actions, and making shared decisions in the nick of time.

Boundary Crossing – The current conditions where work requires; People to juggle multiple objectives with minimal oversight / people to shift from one situation to another while maintain high levels of communication and tight coordination / integrate perspectives from different disciplines / collaborating across dispersed locations / when pre-planned coordination is impossible or unrealistic due to the changing nature of the work / when complex information must be processed, synthesised, and put to good use quickly. It literally defines the practice of teaming. There is simply no time for becoming defensive because you are operating out of your comfort zone.

Collective Intelligence – Collective thinking breeds emotional and team intelligence, the building blocks for self-organisation. It is the meeting of minds where each person retains his/her individuality and at the same time contributes to a robust and diverse group-level conversation. It is the bedrock of proactive action in time vs. too late defensive reactive action.

Genetic Code vs Culture – Culture is a closed system, a feel-good tool, a set of behavioural blinders; it makes a corporation comfortable with its habits. It venerates tradition and worship habit: “The way we do things around here”. That does not hold anymore in today’s changing landscape. The genetic code however carries the DNA of a team created in its identity irrespective of changing circumstances. Genetic coding imprints notions of identity and values as culture does, but in sense of forward-looking. A sense that everything done today is dealing with what gets presented in the moment as an investment in the future, not an expression of the past. Each teaming interaction accommodates the different team identities through the imprints of their genetic coding in each individual member, a more biological perspective not tribal.

Personal Autonomy – Trust and respect form the basis of healthy relationships for giving tough feedback and have difficult conversations without the need to tiptoe around the truth. Personal autonomy is therefore essential to exercise the freedom for self-determination, self-direction, self-realisation and self-responsibility. Becoming autonomous involves being part of something larger than oneself, a team. It includes a sense of belonging and an urge to grow through co-operation, collaboration and connectedness. Personal autonomy builds confidence, reinforces ownership of actions, promotes critical and creative thinking, and enables us to live out our truths, our wants. It’s reclaiming our personal power to grow and be fulfilled in what we do.