I’ve witnessed the following organizational benefits studying self-organizing groups. To individuals (including me), these benefits sound too good to be true—especially all stacked together like this in a list. To self-organizing groups, though, they will feel familiar. Even if I’ve used slightly different words and language than you use in your environment, as a self-organizing group member, you can recognize these experiences as your own.
People within and close to self-organizing groups:
- Having fun together (self-organizing work group members often stop seeing their work as work at all, particularly when they’re together as a group, together as sub-groups, and imagining themselves and their work together)
- Releasing their personal attachment to ideas
- Becoming more spontaneous, creative, and innovative
- Seeing themselves from new perspectives and expanding what they are capable of
- Becoming more aware of who they are and the value they bring as individuals
- Recognizing that impactful work, groups, and experiences start with them
- Seeing when it’s time to let go of their current work and consciously transitioning
- Striving to find/create/spread the “magic” they found as part of the group with other people/groups they’re part of and after the group’s lifetime
- Seeing that their legacy is greater than they imagined as an individual
- Becoming increasingly aware of who they are and the value they bring as a group
- Co-creating win-win-win-win-win-win situations
- Sustaining themselves from within
- Limiting their own growth to a healthy pace and expanding in proportion to members themselves expanding
- Improving the work and the job satisfaction of group members and many nearby others—peers, colleagues, students, managers, and administrators—simultaneously
- Demonstrating to people that their limitations are openings/opportunities for greater connection and not the flaws/drawbacks they previously imagined
- Demonstrating ways of working, thinking, and being together that help individuals (group members and nearby others drawn to the group) experience themselves and others as welcome, safe, creative, spontaneous, and innovative
- Fostering wonder—generating multiple unanticipated organizational benefits that group members themselves did not anticipate or plan for
- Demonstrating that what matters most is inside everyone, not just a lucky few
- Becoming increasingly aware of who they are and the value the organization brings to its field/discipline/area/customers/partners/clients/students
- Gracefully letting go of ideas and work that no longer serve the organization/those it serves and consciously transitioning
- Delighting the people/groups/organizations working with and served by the organization
- Naturally reorganizing from within
- Saving time and money
- Gracefully and generously letting go of people who have grown so much within them that they are ready to move on
- Being loved by group members and nearby others—including by people who haven’t worked with/for the organization for many years—because they loved the group, its members, and the organization by association
- Maintaining connections with people (and the groups and organizations those people go on to become) years after they no longer work with/for the organization—because those people have maintained their connections with at least some of the self-organizing group members
What I do with this information
As an individual, I use these statements as indicators/guideposts to help me more fully and quickly recognize the self-organizing groups that I’m already part of and to recognize the people who I should be working with next. It took me 27 groups to fully see this (I’m a slow learner), but now I’m confident that giving more and more of my time to the people/groups who surprise and delight me—and who allow me to be myself while stretching myself—isn’t selfish. Until I myself could regularly feel surprise, delight, safe, creative, supported, innovative, and encouraged to learn/teach/lead/follow, how could I expect my organizations to reach their full potential? How could I expect to recognize healthy growth until I recognized it in myself?
As a self-organizing work group member, I use this list of organizational benefits at the points when I’m asked to explain the important-this-moment work that I and my groups have formed to accomplish. These benefits are, from my perspective today, fringe benefits our organizations automatically receive by our very existence as self-organizing groups (in addition to the benefits gained by any specific work that we experiment with). I point colleagues who want more details to the Collective Self blog. And for my colleagues who are interested but too busy to add more to their plates, I also:
- Shorten the organizational benefits list above to a top 5 or 10 of what matters most to their organization from the person/group’s perspective (if I don’t know what matters most to them, I find out/ask)
- Tweak the language to make it more person- and group- specific. For example, if the words “gracefully letting go” would make the person, team, division, or group cringe, I may say “seamlessly” or “rapidly” instead. These words are true, too, they’re just not the most interesting to me personally. I make the language work for them. I’ve learned that the language around these groups is far less important than the existence of these groups and the amazing experience and persistence they foster. I’m not trying to sell them something or convince them of anything–I’m trying to draw them to me/the group and support them in deciding that they’d like to be part of us.
- I reflect on, and then highlight the benefits that my own group(s)—and the people around us—are already experiencing and those the group can imagine happening. I talk about what matters most to me personally in the group. My energy–the group’s energy–is what draws them in. Once they consider themselves part of us, their own energy–the group’s energy–keeps them connected.
- Optional: Sometimes, if the person/group cares deeply about individual professional expertise, I explain that the list was compiled by the person who has spent the most hours on planet earth consciously studying self-organizing groups—more than 14,000 hours and 28 groups (and counting) within and outside of organizations. I use language that I suspect will appeal to them. I call myself a researcher, blogger, consultant, speaker, doctor, learner, writer, group member, woman, spouse, daughter, sister, or friend, depending on the person/group. I’m all these things and I don’t care what people call me. I also don’t care if they pick up this list of benefits as their own and never tell another soul about me.
My own practice is to do this extra leg work for 1) myself, 2) others who ask for it, and 3) those I experience as part of myself. I learned this from my self-organizing groups. I’ve learned in my self-organizing groups that helping those around me who need it and helping myself are actually one and the same thing. I’ve also learned that my individual tendencies that wear me out–such as doing too much and trying to help/save/fix everyone–is kept in check by my self-organizing groups. The focus I have today–like so many of the other blessings in my life–is thanks to them.