If you’re familiar with this subject, let me know what it means to you. Here are my current thoughts. Self-organizing work groups are spontaneous groups, created from within, to accomplish work of the moment. Regardless of how the group may appear to have started, groups come fully into the self-organizing space the moment group members recognize that they:
- get more from the group’s spontaneity than they do from their individual planning
- generate energy together and are more creative, adaptive, resilient, and fearless thanks to the group
- find their work more rewarding, impactful, and fun (most days) because of the group
- are accomplishing more than they as individuals imagined or planned
- see the group itself as leader and teacher (group members demonstrate learning and leadership moving around within the group and some call the group leaderless or leaderful saying “We don’t need a leader.” or “We’re all leaders.”)
- are grateful and feel lucky to be part of the group
That is, the group comes fully into the self-organizing space when the group becomes self-aware–through its group members–that the group itself is something unique, special, and important.
These groups are powerful in part because they communicate so much without words. They demonstrate more through group members’ energy, laughter, enthusiasm, diversity, growing closeness, and relative fearlessness than they do with words, and diverse nearby others are drawn to them because of it. Whether they talk about it or not, nearby others drawn to the group notice that the group is different, pay closer attention, recognize the group in themselves, and try self-organizing at the group level for themselves.
These groups distinguish themselves in another important way. Other groups allow individuals to believe that it’s primarily individual plans, strengths, talents, attributes, background, and expertise—and the details of what people do as individuals—that sets them apart. These groups don’t. People in them may start out believing that their individual expertise and background matters most, but they rapidly recognize that the group itself allows them to imagine and be more than they used to be. People in these groups recognize this quickly and quickly begin giving credit to the group itself, other group members, nearby others, the people who came before them, and to the people the group serves. As they do so, people and groups around them recognize them as leaders. Many recognize individual group members as leaders; those working most closely with them, like group members themselves, recognize the group itself as the leader.
Self-organizing groups appear to form around the eternal (that is, around things that persist across human experience, such as love, friendship, laughter, joy, fellowship, and passion) and can, therefore, themselves be very long lasting. Self-organizing work groups–those that form to get specific work-of-the-moment done–have a shorter life span. They form to get work done, and when that work is accomplished, they dissolve as quickly as they formed. But although their life as a work group is over, they don’t really end. Within larger self-organizing groups, work groups that form appear to simply dissolve back into the larger self-organizing group but members may emerge in different combinations again later as self-organizing work groups. They (as a whole or in parts) may also evolve into self-organizing groups. That is, a group that first recognized itself as a work group may finish their work together but maintain their friendships and continue to help each other, as needed, long after the lifetime of the work group. Essentially, evolving into a self-organizing group centered on friendship.
Since 2004, I’ve worked only in/with/as self-organizing groups and work groups (14,000+ research hours). I get to watch again and again as an amazing collective self is brought forth by flawed individuals working in flawed organizations, departments, districts, divisions, and systems. These groups surprise individuals, including group members themselves, and demonstrate that we have access to more potential together than can be recognized by our individual selves. For seven years now, my work has involved getting to say both “Wow!” and “Thank you” every day. I have my own self-organizing groups and work groups to thank for that. How lucky am I?!