From 2004 to 2006, I was part of two life-changing, self-organizing groups at the same time: one group of employees actively experimenting in a global for-profit organization and one group of learners actively reflecting on our own experiences in an educational organization. Thanks to these groups, I came to recognize myself as a self-organizing group member, started learning to recognize these groups elsewhere, and was so drawn to them that I began to seek them out and consciously learn with/from other self organizing groups–first across department, then division, then organizational, and eventually discipline/field and other boundaries. Today I’m a living example of the organizational benefits of self-organizing groups. In my own story, for example:

  1. My first group, within a small division of a very large for-profit organization, got me so excited about the potential within my division that—instead of quitting as planned—I stayed 3 more years and helped an entire division evolve the way it thought of itself, the way it worked, and the way it connected with partners, customers, and other divisions. I got to experience myself as the division itself. I am fully aware that this would not have happened to me had it not been for this group, because, as an individual, I didn’t look, think, or act like those running the division at the time, nor in any way did I recognize myself as someone who could lead a division. But the group could.
  2. The group gave me the courage and support to set boundaries and stop working more than 40 hours each week so that I could also devote myself to pursuing a doctoral degree. But they were so much fun to work with and be part of that I spent a great deal of time thinking about our work and bringing in new ideas to try, and so I actually spent more time working on behalf of my organization—but it didn’t feel like work to me.
  3. When what mattered most to me as an individual had changed, my self-organizing group members helped me recognize that it was time to let go and move on to other work. The group did the same for all group members—helping us take on new roles in the division, move to different divisions in the organization, and move on to follow our hearts and passion with other work and other organizations—all of us looking for the same magic that we’d had within our group and wanting others to have the chance to do the same.
  4. Many people and groups around the group were inspired by the group, many considered themselves part of it at some point, and experimented with self-organizing for themselves. By the time the division won an award for the work we’d done, most of the original group had moved on to other work and it was peers of the core group that were recognized as organizational leaders, which was really cool and amazing for me to be part of and witness months after I’d left the organization.
  5. A second self-organizing group, within my doctoral degree program, also helped me recognize what I wanted to do next—study self-organizing groups like ours—and then supported me as I conducted a multi-year research study.
  6. A third self-organizing group gave me the moral and financial support to pursue full-time research for four years.
  7. Today, I feel a deep, lasting connection to everyone in these three groups—and to the organizations that many are still part of. I work as a consultant for all their organizations—sometimes paid and often for free because I recognize how lucky I am/was to be part of my self-organizing groups and—through them—the organizations as a whole. I love these organizations today—despite (and most days because of) their many flaws—because I see our “flaws” as opportunities for connection and I see these organizations as part of myself. Today all these organizations are still learning new things about themselves, and learning cutting edge ideas about self-organizing groups, because of their lasting connection to me. And I continue to learn about myself through them. Not a bad deal for any of us, it turns out.

Next week I plan to blog about the organizational benefits I’ve witnessed studying 24 other self-organizing groups and work groups.