It’s common in most workplaces for employees to self-organize to varying degrees to complete tasks and projects. As humans it’s something we do naturally.
The advantage of this inherent capability is that it can positively impact your organization, making it be more dynamic, innovative and focused on achieving its objectives. It’s done relatively quickly, there is minimal need for supervisory overhead and employees can find the effort fulfilling as they are doing on their own what they believe to be the best way to achieve something. Employees, the most important resource in most organizations, are given the autonomy to use their capabilities to the fullest.
It’s important for organizations to realize that self-organizing occurs, and can occur more often and more effectively when certain organization frameworks are in place. To maximize your employees’ self-organizing focus on the following principles.
Document and communicate organization goals and priorities; where we are headed
Everyone in the organization should know it’s purpose, and also the purpose of their work unit. This provides guidance to employees as they self-organize and make decisions.
Minimize formal organization structure, policies and rules.
Too many organizational layers, reporting requirements and rules can hinder employee self-organizing. Finding the right balance in using them is an ongoing effort and is required as your organization, employees, customers, and marketplace evolve. Do you need them? Do they require too much maintenance? Are they simply maintaining a status quo of authority? Do they inhibit creativity and a natural work flow?
Develop and sustain an organization culture that has mutual trust and accountability
There should be mutual trust among all employees to find the best solutions among themselves to problems as they occur, rather than bureaucratically “running” the issue up (and then down) the organizational decision-making structure/apparatus. Also, if management continually second guesses employee decision-making and does not provide guidance, there will be minimal employee self-organizing, other than for “defensive” and self-protective purposes.
Employees at all levels of the organization, including those at the top, should be accountable for their commitments and actions. This fosters trust and integrity in employee relationships which is important for the effective functioning of self-organizing teams.
Ensure transparency of information and actions
Activities of organization leadership should not be a secret. Employees should be informed, as much as possible, about the activities of their leadership, e.g. meetings they are attending and why.
Employees, in addition to leadership, should be aware of each other’s activities and meetings.
All organization information, other than that which may be very sensitive or confidential, should be readily available to everyone. It should not be the prerogative of the holder of the information to determine information that is useful to others. How and when it is used and why cannot always be predicted, particularly by the holder of the information.
Consider employee training on the basics of how to interact with others
The quality of employee interaction horizontally and vertically in your organization can affect the quality of self-organizing. For some employees human interaction does not occur naturally and can be clumsy, others may say things that could antagonize co-workers even when that is not the intention, and some employees may not be adept at how to effectively discuss a problem or issue within a group setting. There are many people, advisors, and consultants that can provide this kind of training.
Allow self-organizing to evolve over time
Employee self-organizing will not become prevalent throughout the organization by flipping an organization switch. It should be nurtured and allowed to progress at its own pace, which may differ depending on the nature of the work performed. As everyone begins to see it in action there will be an enhanced understanding of how it works and its benefits to the organization and each employee, resulting in its becoming more widespread and substantive.
—Michael VanBruaene. How can I help you? How can we collaborate? See the services I provide and other organization and personal development tools and articles at www.AdvancingYourOrganization.com. Contact me at MichaelVanBruaene@AdvancingYourOrganization.com.