This is how you turn self-steering into self-organisation (5 tips)

Are you already working with self-directed teams? But are they not yet running quite the way you want them to? Then you’re not alone. They are not yet a resounding success in many organisations. In the
previous blog
I made some comments on the method and introduced an alternative: self-organization. But how do you start that self-organization in your teams? And what are the pitfalls during implementation? That’s what I’m telling you in this blog.

Self-organisation: the next step in self-management

Self-management is the transfer of part of the tasks and responsibilities from managers to employees. Self-organization is the distribution of tasks and responsibilities among the board, management and teams. After all, your employees cannot manage everything themselves and need to know what tasks they have on their plate. You don’t want them to look at each other and wait to see who is going to take the lead, or actually duplicate tasks. Self-directed teams therefore always need a bit of “organization”. Once you have that in order, you can give teams a free hand at the operational level.

Start simple: “who does what?”

Before you start self-organization, look at the tasks and responsibilities. Then you determine who is responsible for what and you make agreements about this. For example, senior management focuses primarily on the vision and strategy and does not interfere with the execution. The tactical issues arising from this vision and strategy are then really the responsibility of middle management. They are only concerned with the formulation and monitoring of the goals that support the vision and strategy of senior management. Finally, the professionals focus entirely on how they carry out the goals and the work. Without interference from above!

This division of tasks sounds logical, yet I often see organizations fall back into old leadership patterns. Therefore I give below some tips to take the step towards well organized self-managing teams.

Tip 1. Trust the craftsmanship of your colleagues

Middle management in particular tends to get too involved in the details of implementation. Therefore an important tip for them: let it go, have the confidence that the professionals know what they are doing. They spend time with clients on a daily basis, building up specific knowledge and experience. Trust and build on that. Do evaluate regularly, for example once a month. That way you keep your finger on the pulse and know what’s going on. It also means that the employee can come to you if he or she encounters organisational issues. For example, obstacles raised by external stakeholders, a strategy that is not entirely clear, or an organizational structure that is not quite right in certain aspects (HRM, facilities).

Tip 2. Create small teams

Traditional teams consisting of more than ten employees are already quite a challenge for a team manager. But also self-directed teams have a certain maximum size. A team of three to a maximum of five people appears to be the most ideal for self-direction. In this
it is easier to divide the responsibilities and to be and stay informed about who is doing what. And this in turn has a positive effect on the involvement of the team members. Moreover, they can’t hide behind anyone or “disappear” into the masses.

Tip #3. Delegate responsibilities

Nothing kills self-steering like a lack of clarity about the division of tasks. When people do not know from each other what they are responsible for, the tasks are not, or not well, executed. So go back to the drawing board and discuss with the members of the self-managing team, but also at senior management level
who does what
. And also assign those responsibilities explicitly (you do this, you do that). This way people know better what is expected of them and they can get to work on their tasks. If something is not clear, team members can request additional information from colleagues who have other responsibilities. For example, make one team member responsible for coordinating and agreeing on vacations and days off!

Tip 4. Stick to your last

When the responsibilities are well divided and the people know exactly what they are responsible for (and know this from each other), it is important that everyone sticks to the agreements as much as possible. Keep taking stock of what employees are good at and whether they are still in the right place, keep an eye on the division of tasks between the strategists, middle management and the subject matter experts, and let people develop in the roles and tasks that suit them. Prevent managers from interfering with the substantive performance of the tasks of professional employees. In other words: cobbler, stick to your last.

Tip 5. Teach people to deal with self-organisation

Many people find the principle of self-organisation extremely interesting. Therefore, make use of their enthusiasm and own input. Discuss the ideas of self-organization and self-direction with the professionals. And support middle management! After all, they have to lead the process towards self-organisation. And this is not always easy. This is because middle management has to collect all the feedback on the process of self-determination and self-organisation and follow it up. Therefore, give a lot of attention to this group. Discuss with them
The organisation is going to work with self-determination. State what is expected of them as a modern executive. Also realize that the implementation of self-directed teams is a process of trial and error. Therefore, give all parties involved space and time.

The self-organization pilot

The initiative to start with
start self-organisation
often comes from higher management, the strategists. They have heard good stories about it from colleague organisations, but cannot properly assess in advance how self-organisation will work out for their organisation. That is why it is useful to do a “self-organisation pilot” beforehand:

Choose a project, department and group of employees with whom you want to start the pilot. Choose employees who are open to new ways of working together and willing to give feedback on the process. Then have one person operate as an internal knowledge developer. Sometimes it is useful to involve an external specialist to help your organisation start with self-organisation. He or she may also be able to train the knowledge developer. Is the pilot a success? Then you can extend the principle to other teams, while continuing to hone your setup.

Tools for the modern manager

Self-management and self-organisation not only require a different approach from the organisation, they also call for a different leadership style. Leaders need to modernize; not only to implement new ways of working together, but also to respond flexibly to changes outside the organizational walls.

Want to know more about this
modern leadership
? Then download the E-book “Leadership in the Economy of Value” below. Or
click here
for our leadership training courses.

Pim Valentijn

Do you have any questions?
Please contact us.

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