Short answer: These groups don’t make decisions. They find decisions, together, the instant that group members recognize and embrace their collective self.

Long answer: Self-aware self-organizing groups don’t make decisions or design and plan things in the traditional sense. Within these groups, individuals become so close that together—as a collective self—they become able to let go of individual fear and anger to the point that they find/see/experience the decision that existed all along, just waiting to be discovered by the collective. Time is devoted to getting closer as people. Finding decisions actually happens in a split second—when group members can look around the room (and into a mirror) and love/value/respect every person there for who they are and what they bring. People at a distance may make assumptions about them given the good decisions they make—that, for example, they contain one or more individuals who are unusually smart or really good individual decision makers or leaders. Group members, and people close to group members, learn otherwise. They learn that it’s their group that is a really good decision finder. This is important because these lessons—taught by self-organizing groups—offer individual group members the simultaneous experience of gratitude and humility (“I could never have come to this great decision so quickly on my own!”) and self-esteem building (“Together we found a great decision! We rock!”) that we, as individuals, need today.

Thank you second group!

Thank you group!

What we become and do as self-organizing groups

These are the ways of being and activities that I’ve observed within self-organizing groups:

  1. We minimize individual triage time. On my own, I’m a worrier and my individual fear can slow down or stop cold my ability to make any decisions, let alone good ones. Also on my own, like Annie (see part 1 of this post), I’m a natural brainstormer—able to spin up a billion options—but I can struggle when it comes time to pick one. As my self-organizing groups, though, I worry far less and there’s always someone in my groups who is a great “just pick one option and move ahead” person (because self-org groups naturally draw difference). So today I minimize the time I spend trying to come up with a solution or decision on my own. Which leads me to the next thing I’ve learned…
  2. We experience our “self” as our self-organizing groups. This means that today I more naturally draw on these groups when making decisions because I consider my individual self part of them and them a part of me. Thinking of the group as my self has some consequences—I have to value group members’ perspectives (even those very different from my own), for example, and I have to listen regularly and closely to all perspectives in the group to understand them. On the upside, these groups contain only the people I want there and who want to be there with me. On the downside (not so down, maybe), this means that I have nobody to blame but myself when I don’t like what I hear. I’ve noticed that in self-aware self-organizing groups that people value other group members’ perspectives so much that within the group they begin to default to 1) trust (most of the time) and 2) rapid forgiveness of themselves and others when an individual messes up on the trust part (which we all do at some point). As self-organizing groups …
  3. We relatively quickly forgive group members when they slip back into fearful/angry individual mode. All group members are quickly forgiven, including ourselves. Tip: This is a great mini-test of whether your group is a self-organizing group. If you naturally forgive them quickly and they do the same for you, you can rest assured that you are a self-organizing group. 
  4. We relatively quickly share and discuss our biggest individual fears, and as the group discusses them, we allow those fears to vanish. When I think of myself as the group, instead of just as a scared and pissy individual, this happens surprisingly fast. And when I say that the fear vanishes, I mean the fear is gone for good. For example, the moment I learned that financially supporting our family right now brings Daniel happiness, that monster fear of mine (that what he’d really like is for me to go back to the steady-paycheck corporate world) vanished. Not sure where it went, but it just doesn’t exist within me anymore.
  5. We become certain in our hearts that the group will find its own answers and solve its own problems. Together, we’ve learned that we make really good decisions as self-created collectives and without external interveners or high-paid, distant professionals or the 16-page spreadsheets mapping out every possible detail and option that we once thought we needed. In my own life, self-organizing groups yield better decisions and results, faster, and with less pain and stress, than individuals do. Period. If they didn’t, as a results-oriented person, I wouldn’t be drawn to them.
  6. We recognize ourselves as whole and happy in the present moment, which reveals what should happen/is happening and what decision should be/is being made. When a group experiences “we are whole and we are happy right now” then decisions take care of themselves. You may have other language for this. For example, some religious people in my self-organizing groups might opt for the word “God” here in place of my “wholeness and collective happiness in the present moment.” For me, the experience is what matters. What language you use to describe it doesn’t matter in the slightest (another lesson I learned as these groups).
Thank you group!

Thank you group!

My story in part 1 appeared to involve a 2-person group; however, all our self-organizing groups play a role in Daniel and I being able to quickly find decisions together as a group. Thanks groups!

Larger groups follow a similar pattern. When making/finding decisions as larger groups, it may appear that our belief in ourselves and our groups is being tested even more. As part of large groups, there’s often not time to talk to and get close to everyone, right, so then what? The good news is that self-organizing groups foster other self-organizing groups, so all you need to do is hang on to the “we’re whole and happy in the present moment” as a small group. If you do, you’ll soon find yourselves surprised and delighted to be surrounded by other groups doing the same thing. When that happens, something very interesting happens within you–you start trusting even more people/groups and trusting yourself even more.

Thank you third group!

Thank you group!

Today, sometimes I talk with/as one whole group or multiple groups, sometimes I talk to just part of one of my groups, and sometimes I don’t talk to anyone out loud at all when making decisions—I simply imagine what group members (who I love as my self) would tell me, would they themselves do, or what they’d likely decide in my place or with me. I trust my gut when deciding which approach to take and which voices matter most in the moment, and I trust my groups to forgive me when I mess up. Learning to fully trust my individual self, for me, was far more difficult than learning to fully trust other group members. Within large self-organizing groups are multiple small self-organizing groups, all of which can make decisions together, and separately, and have all those decisions turn out to be ok and learning experiences in the end. And holy crap is that a fun experience. Our decisions will even appear to distant others as thoughtful, super smart, and well planned. Don’t be fooled. As individuals, we’re as surprised and delighted as anyone by what we become, do, and find together. We’re in awe of the self-organizing group. Our individual selves required us to adjust language, clarify expectations, share fears, and forgive each other along the way (yea individual selves!), but we learn each time, get closer and better together each time, and we just keep being taught that the collective self that’s emerging is so very, very worth it.