I am very excited by the idea of self-managing organisations. The evidence is that they are more successful, more profitable, more innovative, more adaptable, more resilient than conventionally-structured ones. They are happier, more creative places for people to work and people have higher levels of engagement, a greater sense of belonging and purpose and higher levels of fulfilment.
What’s not to to like?
Yet when I talk to people in conventional organisations, they often react with scepticism. Some barely suppress their mirth as they dismiss the idea with the assertion “That’ll never work!”
Others are less critical but give me that knowing smirk and say “Well, that’s fine for a small fringe organisation, like non-profit or a co-operative, but it can’t work for a serious business.”
And yet others will be intrigued, attracted by the idea of a more open workplace, but will then frown thoughtfully and say, “That’s a great idea but it couldn’t work for us because ….”.
I normally reply with some examples of organisations that do make it work. Organisations in all sorts of industries, all sorts of sizes, all sorts of endeavours. I seek to overcome their objections but I realised that I am wasting my time because facts will not change their beliefs. The obstacle here is their beliefs about what is possible and what people are capable of.
So now I have a question. Why won’t it work when
- we have more people educated to degree level than ever before?
- we have a better trained, higher-skilled workforce than ever before?
- we have the ability to monitor and measure and collect more data then ever before?
- we have the ability to share that data more widely and more quickly than ever before?
- we have better analytical and decision support tools than ever before?
At a time when the people who work for organisations are more capable and better resourced and supported than they have ever been in history, why won’t it work?
Could it be that this potential is being constrained by inflexible and rigid organisational structures, excessive micro-management and an ever-more stifling bureaucracy? Could it be people are being modelled into replacement cogs in a monolithic machine rather than being freed to exploit the richness of the resources at their disposal?
We are old enough to tie our own shoelaces. Not only can people manage themselves, they are better equipped to do it now than ever before.