These eight ideas are based on the 18 groups I’ve studied to date and am studying now. They are a summary of what I’ve seen these groups demonstrate so far. In the coming weeks’ blogs I plan to discuss these ideas in detail, using examples from the groups themselves.

My research allows me to see self-organizing work groups existing and moving in their organizations as both individuals and groups. The three things people appear to do as individuals to sustain their self-organizing work groups are to continue to:

  1. Believe in themselves
  2. Maintain focus on what matters most to them—both themselves and one category of nearby others. For example, their students, customers, colleagues, teammates, employees, clients, administration, management, friends, family, community members, and so on. Contrary to what I’d been taught about how to form strong teams, in these groups this “who matters most” is often different for group members.
  3. Believe in the other group members
  4. From these groups, I’ve learned that in the moments that I experience myself as an individual (these days typically when I get tired, scared, or frustrated) I should pay attention to these three things. When my individual courage fails me, I connect with another group member and all three get easier simultaneously.

    As a whole, the groups I study do even more to sustain themselves over time. For example, as a group they:

  5. Are more open and visible (and can notice this is happening)
  6. Are more inclusive and adaptive—expanding incrementally to include others (and can notice this is happening)
  7. Better embrace and appreciate:
    • Being learners (and can notice this is happening)
    • Their own and others’ differences (and can notice this is happening)
    • Their own and others’ limitations (and can notice this is happening)
  8. Rely on the group’s strengths (and can notice this is happening)
  9. Make time to notice the benefits of this new way of being (and can notice they have the time to do this)

One important caveat! In most of the cultures and organizations I’ve worked in and studied, doing is highly valued, so when I write I tend to phrase these ideas as things people/groups do to sustain self-organizing groups. They are, in fact, things that these groups do and did. But it’s equally important to know that group members (including me) often eventually experience these things as having happened to them—both in the moment and more fully in hindsight—which is why I include the parenthesis language above. That is, this wasn’t just something that I/we did. It was something that happened to us because we were part of a self-organizing group. I talk more about coming to experience some of these things as happening to you—becoming humble and thankful as you realize that this group was something you were lucky to be part of—in other blog entries, particularly those that discuss how these groups end and the experience of letting go of these groups.

If you’re interested in hearing more about these eight ideas, I plan to blog about them in the coming weeks and share more ideas and examples from the groups themselves. If you’re busy, simply imagining what these things might mean for you and your groups and organizations also works.