OK, so what is self-organization really?
How can we make self-organization work?
We have been taught about linear systems But then reality confronted us with non-linear systems That is like teaching people all about fruit flies And then lumping everything else together in the group of… non-fruit flies
Let’s adopt a more realistic approach
First, there was a (big) bang!
…and then strings formed particles
…and particles formed molecules
…and molecules formed solar systems
…and living cells
…and cells formed species
…and species formed groups
…and groups formed ecosystems
…and every system organized itself.
Self-organization… a definition:
“Self-organization is a process of attraction and repulsion in which the internal organization of a system, normally an open system, increases in complexity without being guided or managed by an outside source.”
Organization without management? Cool! but…
Self-organization has a dark side…
“We humans are obsessed with purpose. […] The question of purpose, which doesn’t necessarily have to have an answer, is one that leaps to the front of the human mind, whether it is appropriate or not.” – Richard Dawkins
But people care…about value.
“Self-organization requires that the system is surrounded by a containing boundary. This condition defines the “self” that will be developed during the self-organizing process.”
The containing boundary has a chance to direct self-organization towards value
Governance + leadership
Self-organization is the norm, Management is the special case
We all manage something every day But management must be balanced
Three levels of self-organization:
For example: a software development team
2-Self-selected (= self-designed)
Self-organized and system selects its own members
For example: founders of a start-up business
3-Self-directed (= self-governed)
Self-selected and no direction outside the system
For example: criminal organization
And then there’s Emergence…
Emergent properties appear at a higher level that didn’t exist in the components
Not just aggregation
Impossible to “build” the system as an aggregate from the components
The emergent properties have a real effect on the lower-level components
Emergent,but not self-organizing
Self-organizing, but not emergent
A development team .. Emergent +self-organizing
The Darkness Principle
“Each element in the system is ignorant of the behavior of the system as a whole [...] If each element ‘knew’ what was happening to the system as a whole, all of the complexity would have to be present in that element.”
The Law of Requisite Variety
“If a system is to be stable the number of states of its control mechanism must be greater than or equal to the number of states in the system being controlled.”
In human terms…
A team is too complex to manage by just one person.
Only people have the ability to manage complexity.
Therefore, management requires…Distributed governance and leadership
Managers mustbe good at Direction and Delegation
Managing alifeless system is all about instruction
Managing aliving system is all about communication
Manage technical people with technical managers
Three levels of maturity in empowerment
Light (low impact)
Example: coding guidelines, workshops
Moderate (medium impact)
Example: self-education, tool selection
Advanced (high impact)
Example: self-selection, open salaries
Seven levels of authority in empowerment:
-Tell: make decision as the manager
-Sell: convince people about decision
-Consult: get input from team before decision
-Join: make decision together with team
-Advise: influence decision made by the team
-Confirm: ask feedback after decision by team
-Delegate: no influence, let team work it out
Empowerment requires maturity and authority (increase both gradually)
Choose to Empower the team OR empower individuals
A good mix of empowerment
Don’t empower people in just technical/process areas
Also give them some “business stuff” to do
-The delegation Checklist:
-Is risk factor addressed?
-Right empowerment skills?
-Right level of authority?
-Individuals or to teams?
-Right order of delegation?
-Discrete chunk of work?
-Skills to do the work?
-Right format for work products?
-Are tools available?
-Understanding of results?
-Boundary conditions clear?
-When is the work due?
-What does progress looks like?
-How often to report?
Empowerment is an investment Beware of the micromanagement trap (no patience while waiting for ROI)
Paradox: empowerment increases status
Manage individuals (to protect the self-organizing system)
Manage top management (to protect the self-organizing system)
Manage the environment (to protect the self-organizing system)
1) Trust your people
2) Earn trust from your people
3) Help people to trust each other
4) Trust yourself
The four types of trust
Self-organization is the norm
Management is the special case
Management = governance and leadership
Management = direction and delegation