Hey Doug, thanks for asking me to get more clear on this subject! I’ve only recently started thinking about this idea, which is why I am fuzzy speaking about it. What I believe I see so far has to do with perceived location of the self. That is, in the moments in which I/we think:
- “individual self” I am capable of leading my individual self and influencing nearby other individual selves
- “small group self” we are capable of leading as small groups and influencing nearby other small groups
- “large group self” we are capable of leading as large groups and influencing nearby other large groups
Here are five sources of evidence…
1. From the half dozen flash mobs I’m studying…
The people who consider themselves part of these groups number in the tens of thousands and up—not just the people who danced or sang (or whatever) in the mob originally but a whole lot of people who see the performances on YouTube, experience a deep connection (manifested by feeling joy, surprise, delight, and even shedding tears), and share them with others they’re connected to. Beyond the sheer number of hits they get (for example, the first Seattle Glee mob video—http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5PyIVVKoWU—has been viewed 1,804,170 times in 13 months and the one last month has already been viewed more than 100,000 times), where you can really can see this in the comments people leave. From my perspective as a researcher, these groups start with a very small group leading themselves and a slightly larger group, then that slightly larger group leads themselves and the flash mob, then that flash mob leads themselves and an even larger group that watches the performance in person and on YouTube. Cool part is that all individuals within these groups get to be leaders too, at least in hindsight, if not consciously experienced the first time.
2. From the 100+ person men’s friendship group I’m studying…
I haven’t blogged about this yet, but I’ve heard from several non-members about the amazing amount of influence that this group has had, and continues to have, throughout its entire large Seattle-area community and beyond. You yourself have mentioned this group’s influence on multiple occasions to me. Another friend of mine—unrelated to anyone the group itself recommended I talk to—also mentioned the influence of the group in the community. Large group influencing large group. Within the group, from my perspective, small groups of leaders form as needed to get work done and then disipate just as quickly. Other small groups and individuals notice.
3. Just found this idea chunk in a blog entry on leadership in self-organizing groups written almost the moment I got home from my first flash mob performance (http://woocommerce-158966-458665.cloudwaysapps.com/frequently-asked-questions/what-does-leadership-look-like-in-and-near-self-organizing-groups/)
…Size-wise, like leading self and nearby like. For the most part, it appears that individuals lead themselves and nearby other individuals, not everyone; small groups lead themselves and nearby small groups and individuals, not everyone; and larger groups lead themselves and nearby large and small groups and individuals, not everyone.
4. Also found this idea chunk from the end of a blog entry about self-organizing groups changing the systems that they’re in (http://woocommerce-158966-458665.cloudwaysapps.com/frequently-asked-questions/can-a-small-work-group-at-the-bottom-really-change-the-system-in-spite-of-all-structures-in-place-to-stop-them/)…
Very Important Caveat!
I’ve learned from all the self-organizing work groups that I’ve studied and been part of that saying that a small group changes a large system isn’t exactly accurate. I’ve learned from these groups that:
- People change themselves
- Small groups change themselves
- Divisions and departments change themselves
- Organizations, districts, fields, disciplines, and communities change themselves
From my perspective today, one of the reasons that self-organizing work group members come to be seen as leaders is that they’ve learned this important lesson for themselves, thanks in large part to their own self-organizing work groups. These groups allow group members and at least some nearby others to see more than they could as individuals, including being far more aware of all the people and groups who helped them along the way throughout the lifetime of the group and also the lifetime of the individuals within the group. So if you ask a self-organizing work group who changed their system, you’ll hear multiple answers from multiple grateful and humble individuals who will say something like “Well, we did, but also…”
- Our peers did!
- Our managers did!
- Our students did!
- Our customers did!
- Our administration did!
- Our partner organizations did!
- Our formal department did!
- Our organization did!
- Our people did!
- Our employees did!
- Our mentors did!
- Our communities did!
- Our families did!
- Our spouses did!
- Our children did!
- Our friends did!
According to group members, this isn’t because they were all extraordinary individuals to begin with. This is because they are part of a group that is allowing them time and space to actually be, do, and see far more than they could see as individuals. And they know it. I have yet to find false humility and gratitude in a self-organizing work group. That humility and gratitude–like the confidence and self-esteem they helped bring forth–appears to be hard earned together!
5. My own experience
Within my first self-aware, self-organizing group I became capable of thinking from the multiple perspectives of the 5-member group (what would management think? Marketing and sales? Technical experts? Learning experts?). As we did pilot projects and pulled in other perspectives, we could see from those perspectives too (our customers, vendors, partner organizations, people in other divisions). Near the end of our time as a group, we could think from the perspective of the whole division. This meant that we had to truly care about every single perspective offered in the division, even as we triaged and made tough choices. It did NOT mean that we got everything right. But as a group we visibly listened a lot more, obviously cared about people, and forgiveness was offered to us a lot more readily than it was offered to others.
For me today, the more time I spend with my self-organizing groups, the more time I give to thinking of my “self” as something beyond an individual self (while increasing my forgiveness of and love for my individual self). For me it’s these groups—not me as an individual—that influence other groups around me. This blog is an example. Distant others may read an idea here and think I’m personally smart or that the ideas on the site are mine. Groups and people close to me know better—they know that it’s the groups I study and am part of from which the cool ideas spring. The closer you get, the more obvious that becomes, just ask my husband.
As I said, these thoughts are an early work in progress. From the day my research revealed to me that we’re all connected, I decided that I would share my emerging, work-in-progress ideas with blog readers, because from my perspective, if you’re reading this you’re part of my self-organizing groups. But it’s still my close, working-together self-organizing groups–like our group, Doug–that make the earliest ideas visible. Thank you!