I spend all my time working with and as self-organizing groups and reflecting on what we experience and learn together. Thanks to these groups, I live my life in a very good mood: to the point that, most days, it’s hard to wipe the smile off my face. I recently saw this same experience on the face of a person next to me at Skillet Diner just down the street from my house. He grinned for at least an hour: from the moment the waiter started walking a large plate of chicken and waffles toward his table, all through his meal, to the moment he walked out the door and on down the street. I couldn’t take my eyes off that smile. For all I know, he’s still grinning.
Self-organizing groups have a similar effect on work life. This is apparent in my own work life, so I thought I’d share examples of what I heard and felt at work this past week. Thanks to my conflict-expert friend Doug, I’ve been actively watching for conflict within self-organizing groups lately. Look with me for the conflict in my week and what it felt like…
Conversation 1 (via e-mail):
Me: Last time I’ll bug you this week! [Another member] has asked if we could move the June meeting to 10 a.m. to noon…. That time works for [the rest of us], would it work for you? Thanks, Lori
Other group member: Lori You can “bug” me any time! I do not feel bugged. I feel engaged. That is a very good thing…. I can do [that time]. Have a good weekend.
Conversation 2 (via e-mail):
Other group member: What did you learn – or, what will you add to your learnings after our group meeting?
Me: The first thought that jumped to mind is that, for me, our lunch demonstrates that I am one lucky person. I am blessed. It’s thanks to the groups that I study, write about, and talk about that amazing people and groups—like you [three]—show up in my life. People I may never have met and gotten the opportunity to know otherwise. Your story [as an individual and as a group] was inspiring.
Other group member: Ditto. I am humbled by the people who I share life with. I’ve often said if riches were counted by the wonderful people in your life – I’m a billionaire. I also feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet [your group] last week. Already my life has been enriched! I look forward to our individual and collective learnings… Already I am learning…
Conversation 3 (via e-mail):
Me: In the groups I study, at least some group members will feel like old friends to you from the beginning. I felt that way the first time I met Doug. And I felt that way the first time I met you. Almost like I’d met you before or already know you somehow.
Other group member: Yes, I look at that from a trust perspective. Most people trust until they have a reason to distrust. Though, why? How is it- that some have high levels of trust from the start???
Me (to myself, in my own mind): No group member has asked me this yet. Need to start consciously thinking about this more and start putting words around it. Should directly ask self-org group members I’m studying on Sunday…
Conversation 4 (in person and online):
Me: Well, I, uh, hmm. No, I didn’t mean that small groups can only learn from small groups and individuals can only learn from individuals within self-organizing groups. It has more to do with, um, visibility, um, influence. I need to think about that more and get clearer. I’m still fuzzy on it.
Other group member: You should get more clear on that. I’m really curious about it!
Me (responding via blog post, attempting to move us in the direction of understanding what I’ve been seeing in the groups I study):
Conversation 5 (via e-mail):
Other group member: Sorry about the delay in responding. Enclosed is a paragraph summary and a photo…
Me: I didn’t experience a delay in your response. Thanks for this. It’ll go up tomorrow…
Conversation 6 (via e-mail): Important note: This message is from this morning–the first truly warm, sunny, totally cloud-free Saturday in Seattle in 2011—which is why we sound a bit over-the-top happy. We had not been drinking! 🙂
Other group member: Hi Lori! Oh Glorious day! Its going to be a beautiful, sunny day today! Just wanted to touch base and share that I have read your email several times on my bus trips to and from [work] this week…. ( I printed it and have notes scrawler all over it)… I’ve got so much to ask you, and talk about….-And my current reality is that for the last two weeks… [details about family illness]. I am grateful to have a full life and opportunities to expand that life ( i.e. meeting [your group]). Just wanted you to know if I’m a little silent for now – its only because there are simply not enough hours in my day… I will keep good notes on my thoughts and try to get on the computer as much as possible… Enjoy the wonderful weekend!
Me: Good morning. It is glorious, isn’t it! I haven’t experienced silence from you. In fact, yesterday I was working on a future blog post about how self-organizing groups improve work life—using my own life as an example—so I was reading and re-reading all the amazing e-mail messages I received this past week, including yours. So really, I heard from you several times yesterday. 🙂 At some point the four of us will get together again and talk, talk, talk. No worries. I’m sorry to hear about your [family illness]. I hope your family is doing well during this transition. We’ve been through similar experiences in my family several times in the past years with grandparents, and it wasn’t easy. Hope you prioritize enjoying the sun and getting plenty of rest over time on the computer! I will be! – Lori
Example work email messages I received this week…
“Thanks for taking a look at the website. I am honored that you would include me on your web site. I will join and do so in the next couple of days. I respect and admire your clarity of purpose and intent.”
“Girls weekends/nights are the best! Glad you were able to get away with people you love and care about – and they you! Not to worry – I love the context and detail – am right there with you… See below for my thoughts on your thoughts! I only got through Question 1 – have to head out to a meeting – looking forward to responding to the rest tonight! Thanks!”
“Hope you are well and had a great [book club] weekend… I’ll read your paper tomorrow and am looking forward to talking about how we could move forward. I just took a quick scan of the beginning and like how your brain dumps. :-)”
“I’m in the process of doing this – and honestly still struggling with “letting go” of the benefits, and “security ” of full time work etc… At the same time I am in heaven – being in charge of my days and meeting and interacting with folks such as [your group]. I really did enjoy every minute of my time with the group…Will learn from you on this one!”
“One of the things I’ve been ruminating about is the increased recognition of the value of vulnerability. (e.g. some great Ted talks on this). I think [other group member] did a great job of exemplifying this by testing out your introduction and then asking for impressions/feedback. That takes courage in any group – particular a group of strangers. Thanks for modeling leadership in this way.”
“I love how you are so attuned to detail and capturing words that people use to describe their experience. It does make a difference in a reader’s understanding of what you are saying! Great!”
“I just read your brain dump. A few thoughts that came to me in the moment I put into comments in the document itself. My three big thoughts are these: 1) holy crap does your mediation work take courage…”
“Standing on the pier listening to the waves, the joy of children so lost in play, the sound of gulls begging for my fishing bait, broken by the occasional sound of an air plane flying overhead with a streamer in the sky, contrasted by the quiet of a sunrise at dawn and the smell of salt… To be liberated is joy. To have [my family] together for the next Month is joy. To move into a very nice neighborhood is joy. And to work when I want and for who I want is joy. Finding joy takes effort and courage. Making life a joy is itself making meaning from the love of others who invested in me so that this day could happen. With all the love in my heart, and from a person who wishes nothing but joy for you…”
“…I had an amazing lunch – just listening and learning from [your group]. It was indeed a pleasure to meet you and hear about your research. It is fascinating and initiates so many questions for me. I came home and started a list right away…. “
Reflections on my work life today…
Is it any wonder that I’ve begun to notice and focus on the amazing, rewarding, creative, and fun things that happen in my work life—I’m surrounded by them! This is what working as self-organizing groups is like. We spend as much time as possible with these people—people who stretch out that creative, rewarding time for us and allow us to do the same for them. People with whom we’re highly motivated to reflect on our group experience–long after we’ve stopped “working” or gone home for the night.
Not that long ago, anger and difficult conflict were inevitabilities in my work life. They were inevitabilities within me, because I couldn’t imagine work being any other way. Today I struggle to remember anger and difficult conflict at work. They appear to be happening less and less. Either that, or we move through them so quickly as self-organizing groups that what remains is all the positive memories. I’ve been consciously and unconsciously patterning my way of being and my actions on the model set for me by the self-organizing groups that I spend time with. So I now show up recognizing the importance of the group to my own life and work (and not just self-organizing groups but all groups because of my all-too-human tendency to generalize outward). And it is changing me and my work. I’m more patient. I listen more and more closely. I feel more listened to, so I talk less (in person—in writing I’ve still got a looong way to go). I offer the benefit of the doubt to more people. I forgive more quickly. I’m more motivated, creative, and productive. And, I receive all these things in return—far, far more than I give–which is why I’m so grateful. I think that’s the reason that I exude chicken-and-waffle-level joy most days–at work and elsewhere. And on the days I don’t, I now have the option to work from a booth at Skillet Diner over a plate of chicken and waffles.
Lori, this is a fantastic post. Reading through the email exchanges, I noticed
1- The smooth relationships among team members
2- Absence of instructions or orders. Suggestions replaced them
3- The positive language of participants or communicators
4- Self-organizing is self-propelled
5- The prevailing culture of re planning to make every team member happy when possible
I could go on, but these examples are enough to wish to be not only a virtual team member, but also a physical one.
Thanks Ali, I love hearing from you. Think I could write a book responding to your ideas. I’ll limit myself to two responses. First, you see “smooth relationships among team members.” What strikes me in my own work is how quickly these amazing relationships happen now. Two of the people quoted in the blog post are people new in my life: one colleague I’ve known 6 weeks and the other I’ve known 2 weeks. Working as these groups, we/I get very clear, very quickly, about what we’re/I’m doing, what we/I want, and what we/I need. The more clear we/I get, it seems, the better “right fit” new group members show up and the more “wrong fit” group members move on. For example, just yesterday I recognized that I had become the “wrong fit” group member–and I decided to move on before my individual discontent/readiness to move on would cause pain/trouble to the group I still cared about. I used to need group members to talk to me and help me recognize this. Now I more quickly get there on my own: seeing unspoken signs before talking is required…
Second response, regarding the wish to be a physical team member–not just a virtual team member…
The “love of the local” is a theme in these groups. I see a great deal of prioritizing the lessons learned and needs of the moment (of the group, individuals in the group, and the groups/people each group member cares most about)–and of identifying and using the skills in the room as they exist right now–over the ideas of distant experts, for example. Second, I’ve learned that local, close, and distant mean physical location and emotional location (demonstrated by internal feelings). For example, from my perspective you feel more “local to Lori” than someone 2 blocks away from me in Seattle who couldn’t care less about the subject of self-organizing groups. For me, you’ve become local. You’re not like the cherries at my farmer’s market now–local because you were grown here. You’re local because of the real estate you receive in my mind and heart.
For 8 years now (since I began working close to full-time as self-organizing groups), I’ve noticed that we do go to extraordinary lengths to get together physically relative to those around us. When I was still at Microsoft (where 90% of what I used to do was done via virtual teams), it started with finding empty alcoves and rooms to meet in, then cafeterias/coffee shops, then classrooms we could experiment in together, then researching together in other locations, and presenting our ideas as a group to other organizations, etc.—almost always physically together. Recently I noticed that I’ve been prioritizing speaking in cities where my own group members will be: either presenting with me or where they live. I care far more about who I’m with than what I’m/we’re talking about (something new to me in the past few years). Today, several of my work colleagues live on islands across the sound from Seattle. In my past work life, conference calls and email would have been enough, but I won’t settle for that with these groups. We want to be together. I think of it as steeping (like tea) and basking (like a cat in sunshine) in the energy of the group. We take buses, bikes, walks, and ferries to see each other regularly. Sometimes several of us will meet before the meeting and walk/bus/ride to the meeting together. We’ll pick each other up (as walk-on ferry riders) at the terminal or elsewhere and shuttle each other to our meetings in our cars. We walk more because it means more time together. We’ll send extra detailed directions to new meeting spots and maps of the best bus routes to each other. These people are worth it. We all feel it and know it.
In the past year, based on the model set for me by these groups, I decided to study only local groups: those close to me physically and/or emotionally. Well, decided is a bit strong. I noticed what I was doing and called it a decision from that point on. 😉 I’m occasionally asked my opinion about a self-organizing group in, say, Egypt. My response is that I wish them well, I hope to meet the people in the group and/or studying the group someday, but that unless I am physically and emotionally close (for me, this means I can experience surprise and delight with the group itself), I’m in no position to see what matters most and no position to judge. Unless I’m in the group or close enough to it that we trust each other, I cannot tell you anything of value about it, and it feels odd to even try.
A pattern is emerging in my responses to you: I fail spectacularly at keeping my responses concise.
You fail to make your response concise. Actually, this is a smart statement and is full of reality to the brim. In complexity science we explore possibilities and being concise is not the ultimate goal. Only when we have a Newtonian system precision is desired.
I liked very much the point on emotional attachment. I have this feelings towards Lori even though is far away physically. The interchange of ideas and the emotional phrases that are filled with facts make distances collapse. Even though I do not have the pleasure of traveling with your group, playing purposefully with the team members and ,exchanging emerging ideas; yet I smell the fragrance of this atmosphere.
Lori, your responses give me a lot of ideas to think about. May I suggest to you at this point to write the book to answer my observations and those of others. It shall be a fascinating one, I assure you.
Hi Lori, I wrote a presentation on slideshare that is the “presentation of the day” on slideshare for the Business and Management category. I would really love to know of your comment about it. Equally important to see if you detect the hidden self-organizing feature in the presentation
The title of the presentation is “The fresh air of slide share”. The link is
Have a great weekend, Lori
Nice presentation! Much of what you talk about is supported by what I see self-organizing groups do. The practice of consciously growing slowly—growing as you grow in awareness together, and not blindly—feels like the theme. Greater awareness and visibility appears to come with greater closeness as a group (what self-org groups teach) and not with greater numbers (what we, as individuals, might assume on our own). I remember writing about that idea here (see #4).
The comment that you highlight from Christa Gabanyi (from the Upanishads) is just lovely. I’m going to add that to the Quote of the Moment section on the Collective Self home page today. Appears she is on her way to becoming a self-organizing group member for you. And for me, because she comes recommended by my group-member Ali and she shared that fantastic quote. 🙂 The quote describes my experience within self-organizing groups and describes what’s happening to me as someone who spends all day, every day, with them. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine being someone who would be able to “never entertain negativity.” These days, however, the groups I study are able to do this most of the time, and now, most days, so am I.
Thanks for the pointer to your slide deck!
Lori, your creative response is a concise example of positive feedback of comments. Not only the comments expands the original idea, but also new thinking branches out. Comments have their rules, and these rules lead authors to self-organize as you have explained. Authors feel closeness and interact to serve the group through increased awareness of the value of collective approaches.
A branch out is your adoption of the quote and making it the quote of the day on your site.
The responses will get authors closer and intensify the exchange of ideas. The value of your comment is evident, Lori