Across the differences in the self-organizing work groups I’ve studied and been part of, there are also commonalities. One apparent commonality is the internal experiences that people have (and how people feel) as they let go of these groups. Here are eight internal experiences you might have as you let go of your self-organizing work group and its work:

  1. Feeling a deep internal sense of accomplishment and pride in your work. A voice in your head saying something like “We did it!” or “We got what we needed! Yea!” or “Wow! We rock! I rock!” or “I can’t believe that actually happened! Woo hoo!”
  2. Feeling yourself becoming increasingly aware of your needs as an individual, separate from other group members. Transitioning away from the group and letting go is a personal experience—and appears to be a more individual experience—than fostering and sustaining the group, which appear to be more collective experiences, at least in the groups I’ve studied and been part of to date.
  3. Noticing others in the group making the transition easier for you. Some examples of different ways that group members do this for each other include:
    • Modeling letting go of the group.
    • Noticing and mentioning changes in you—even encouraging you to try something new.
    • Consciously joining forces to reimagine what is possible for you.
    • Demonstrating that group members and others in the organization can do great work without you.
    • Celebrating the group’s success with you.
    • Celebrating when individual group members move on.
    • Continuing to provide support, help, and friendship long after you’ve left the group and even after you’ve left the department, division, program, organization, district, discipline, or field.
  4. Experiencing a sense of loss and some sadness. For example, you may:
    • Anticipate missing working with group members.
    • Miss working with group members and the feelings of growth, creativity, and success that accompanied the work.
    • Sometimes wish you still worked closely with group members.
    • Experience that working on your own is more difficult than working as part of the group.
      • Nearby others may notice this as well. For example, a manager of two self-org work group members noticed that the group member she managed during the lifetime of the group had an easier time and was better supported by the division than the group member who continued the work after the lifetime of the group.
  5. Letting go of the group. Recognizing that you’re ready to move on, mentally or actually saying goodbye, and emotionally moving on.
  6. Recognizing that you had a valuable experience as a group member.
  7. Noticing yourself reflecting on why and how the group worked.
  8. Recognizing that you’ve changed and that you now look for opportunities to work in a more collective manner.

There doesn’t appear to be any particular order to these experiences for individuals. I’ve just seen them pop up as common across the groups I’ve been part of and those I’ve studied near or at the end of or after their lifetimes. There also doesn’t appear to be any particular association with time of these experiences. A person may have one or more of these experiences before the end of the group’s life (from someone else’s perspective), as the group ends, and weeks, months, and even years after the group’s lifetime. For me, with my first group it took me about seven months to have all eight experiences. Right now I believe that that time could vary from minutes to years depending on the group and the person.

Goodbye for Now

Saying Goodbye for Now to Self-Org Work Group Members

Today I can still intentionally reflect on the experience of being part of my former groups and recreate all eight of these experiences within myself again. And while letting go the first few times was difficult, today I see these steps and feelings as positive—even the loss and sadness parts—because they are all parts of one whole and valuable experience. This is especially obvious anytime I get back in touch with group members (which we occasionally go out of our way to do). Together we reminisce, laugh, and can see even more clearly today just how lucky we were to be part of the group. Although I may have let go of the work we did together—and even let go of much of the individual self that I was back then—I don’t let go of who we were together and who I could be as part of the group. Because who I could be as the group was pretty amazing.

One last thing as I reflect on how I personally experience letting go of these groups today. Now that I’ve consciously been part of many self-organizing work groups–beginning, middle, end, and beyond–letting go is getting easier. It doesn’t feel as scary as it used to. Sometimes it’s not scary at all. As a student of these groups I’ve learned that the “end” of these groups is really just “the end for now” because I don’t lose my connection with other self-org work group members. Each SOWG that finds me broadens my base of support as an individual, because it broadens my perception of self. Anyone who I’ve worked with in one of these groups is part of me, and when I really need them, I know I can call them, no matter what I need or how long it’s been. Today, this is my organization; my collective self. Knowing this as an individual is what’s making it easier to recognize when it’s time to let go of something, to actually let go, and to make space for what’s coming next. Sadness and a sense of loss still show up in me, but today they show up as brief flickers that barely resemble the true difficulties they used to be. To all my self-organizing work groups (my organization, my collective self) all I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you.