If you’re familiar with this subject, let me know what it means for you. Today, for me, a self-organizing group is a collective whose members are surprised and delighted by what they become and do together. These collectives create themselves and contain members who become increasingly aware that the group is giving them more than they could imagine and plan as individuals. I study self-aware self-organizing groups: groups in which members recognize that the group itself is something special.
These collectives come fully into existence the moment group members recognize any of the following things:
- They get more from the group’s spontaneity than they do from their individual planning
- They generate energy together and are more creative, adaptive, resilient, and fearless thanks to the group
- They find their lives and work more rewarding, impactful, and fun (most days) because of the group
- They are accomplishing more than they as individuals imagined or planned thanks to the group
- They see the group itself as leader and teacher (group members demonstrate learning and leadership moving around within the group and some call the group leaderless or leaderful saying “We don’t need a leader.” or “We’re all leaders.”)
- They are grateful and feel lucky to be part of the group
- That together they are whole and happy this very moment
The collective becomes self-aware–through its group members and nearby others–that it is something unique, special, and important.
These collectives communicate a lot without words. They demonstrate more through group members’ energy, laughter, enthusiasm, humor, feelings of gratitude and growing fearlessness, and the ability to let go than they do with words. Diverse nearby others are drawn to them because of it. Nearby others drawn to the group notice that the group is different, pay closer attention, recognize the group in themselves, and try self-organizing at the group level for themselves.
People in them may start out believing that their individual expertise and background matters most, but they rapidly recognize that the group itself allows them to imagine and be more than they used to be. People in these groups recognize this quickly and quickly begin giving credit to the group itself, other group members, nearby others, the people who came before them, and to the people the group serves. As they do so, people and groups around them recognize them as leaders. Many recognize individual group members as leaders; those working most closely with them, like group members themselves, recognize the group itself as the leader.
Self-organizing groups appear to form around the eternal (that is, around things that persist across human experience, such as love, friendship, laughter, joy, fellowship, and passion) and can, therefore, themselves be very long lasting. Within them, self-organizing work groups naturally form to get specific work-of-the-moment done. Responding to the needs of the moment, those who most urgently feel the need come together, anticipate the need on behalf of the group, and then do the work that needs to get done. When that work is accomplished, the work group dissolves as quickly as it formed.
“self organizing collective image at large” = social
Hi Mark, think I know what your saying. If you have time, say more please!
Having just read this post I feel I propelled to try a new definition for self-organizing. I would say it is the emerging behavior when the maximum overlap occurs between individual interests and group interests. That is to say, when the sweet spot (I prefer sweet zone) between the two interests gains the maximum possible value.
Likewise; when other parameters meet this rule new behaviors emerge: the happiness of individual overlaps to the maximum; the sweet zone is larger and so effects are greater.
I wonder if you would agree, Lori!
Sorry to repeat the comment as I made some corrections and additions, without changing the spirit of the comment
Having just read this post I feel propelled to try a new definition for self-organizing. I would say it is the emerging behavior when the maximum overlap occurs between individual interests and group interests. That is to say, when the sweet spot (I prefer sweet zone) between the two interests gains the maximum possible value.
Likewise; when other parameters meet this rule new behaviors emerge: the happiness of individuals and their perspective teams overlap to the maximum; the sweet zone is larger and so effects are greater.
I wonder if you would agree, Lori!
Hello Ali, I’m sorry for taking so long to respond. We lost a beloved family pet to a terminal illness on Monday, and my heart insisted on a few days of healing before allowing me access to my brain again.
First, I think it’s wonderful that you’re creating your own definition of self-organizing. I think everyone should! 🙂
Second, I see you as a self-organizing group member, so even if I disagreed with you, I wouldn’t particularly care, because I know that what’s important is that we move in the same general direction and stick together. The group can easily hold multiple divergent views.
Third, from my perspective, I agree with this: “I would say it is the emerging behavior when the maximum overlap occurs between individual interests and group interests. That is to say, when the sweet spot (I prefer sweet zone) between the two interests gains the maximum possible value.” I would add that from my perspective it’s an emerging being that we’re seeing– a new us–the self-organizing group itself–demonstrating this emerging behavior. Within these groups we gladly give all credit to the group, because as individuals we’re fully aware of how lucky we are to be part of it.
Finally, I don’t understand what you mean when you say: “when other parameters meet this rule new behaviors emerge” so I can’t say if I agree with that or not. Please say more about what you mean here.
Nice to talk to you again. Being part of these groups, and getting to talk about them, also helps heal my broken heart.
Please accept my sincere condolences for the loss of one of your beloved pets.
Second, I honor your accepting me as a member of your groups. I am proud to be one.
Thirdly, my vague points on other parameters apparently need more elaboration. If I may rephrase the statement I would say it primarily rotes around soft skills. A happy group member and a happy group work best if they overlap to create a joint happiness zone. The happiness of the individual feeds the happiness of the group and vice versa. Likewise; the motivation of a group member and that of the perspective group yield the maximum output if they overlap. Now, imagine we have all these parameters of happiness, motivation, pride and other soft skills overlapping who dare to guess the resulting complexity? This complexity is a prelude to self-organizing. I hope I made myself clear this time.
I enjoy your discussions, Lori. Who knows where the resulting overlapping would take us and how we would rearrange?
Thank you, Ali. Yes, I see what you’re saying and agree.
One interesting thing I keep finding relates to the nature of the growth of these groups and the emerging layers of complexity. Self-organizing groups of two or three appear to always be present within larger self-organizing groups. I believe that once two or three people start working together as a collective self (in your joint happiness zone), new awareness and imagination becomes available to them. Eventually, one or two more join, leading again to new awareness and imagination, and so forth. However, these groups don’t just grow exponentially larger and larger in the “let’s see if our business can take over the world” sense. They help group members within them recognize what matters most to them as individuals as well, and when what matters most to the individual changes away from what matters most to the group, the individual moves toward what matters most to them now and away from the group, supported in doing so by other group members. The “magic” of the group is such a draw that individuals will leave the group when they recognize that it’s time to find/create that magic elsewhere–that’s there’s an emerging or other existing group that matters most.
In the past 8 months, I’ve been studying much larger self-organizing groups outside of formal organizations in which people don’t leave to keep generating the same magic but instead continue to pull difference into the group to create it. One 100+ person men’s friendship group and multiple large self-org flash mobs (and an underlying flash mob generating community). These groups are stunning to me. When I’m part of them it feels like I’m in a friendly unstoppable warm river of collective learning. I still can’t believe I’m lucky enough to get to spend time with these groups for a living!! But I digress.
I enjoy our discussions too. Who knows where we’ll be taken and how we’ll rearrange? I don’t know, but I’m not worried. Our collective self will figure it out.
How could I resist responding to your great and educational comment? It is worth reading repeatedly. For now, I want to make a quick response to your correct observation. You said in your previous comment, “Self-organizing groups of two or three appear to always be present within larger self-organizing groups”. Social network analysis of groups, on which I published few presentations’ concur with this observation. Triad subgroups are observable most of the time even though extending to up to six members. That is a fractal structure (3 groups within groups within groups and so on.
The discussions shall unfold the new us.
High Lori, I do not know if you would read this comment. I just want to say that I recently published a presentation “crafting the raft- lessons for managers” in which I provide a new perspective on self-organizing group. It is on slideshare
I look forward to reading it! I’m on vacation this week, but as soon as I’m back in the office I’ll go look it up. Thanks for sharing!!
Great slide deck, Ali, thank you for sharing it. I pointed people to it on the Collective Self facebook page (which is my online business presence). I read that same study about fire ants surviving floods. That was so cool! (Then again, I don’t live in a place where there are fire ants. My in-laws in the southern U.S. would likely prefer it if the little guys drowned.) 🙂
In my experience, human self-organization into groups doesn’t need to start with a grand goal beyond survival. A larger design emerges and can be seen when people are working very closely with diverse, trusted others. For example, my first experience self-organizing as a group was that each of the five of us (core members) that found each other was thinking about 1) our own survival and 2) the survival of those we cared most about (which was different for each of us) at the very beginning. Each had different skills and perspectives and reach within the organization. The more we talked, and closer we got, the more opportunities we could see around us to ensure the survival of all the groups we considered part of ourselves. And the more we could see who else should be pulled into the group–people with different perspectives, skills, and ideas than the group already had. Other groups began to self-organize around us to support and expand the work (for their own purposes). Although we didn’t realize it at first, the “grand” part was far less about what we were saying out loud and far more about what we were experiencing as a group. We were demonstrating that flawed humans could work amazingly well together (within an organization full of people so focused on the flaws of themselves and others that they couldn’t fully imagine collective creativity, innovation, and larger work until they witnessed it with their own eyes).
Those of us in the group were as stunned as those around it and elsewhere in the organization, but we had the advantage of appearing to distant others that we planned the whole thing from the beginning. 🙂 By the time distant others showed up to ask us how we’d changed an entire division, we could pick out the “design” in what had happened through us.
Thanks for staying in touch. It makes my heart smile to know that you are on this planet.
Lori, I do appreciate your comment and quacking my presentation on FaceBook.
WIITFM is a sign that propel want things for themselves. Unless, the grand goal roves more benefit and or less risk people most likely will be selfish.
I concur fully with your great experience that the grand goal might be turgid and through interactions this goal becomes clearer. If all team members see this goal a s they own it then they shall naturally work towards achieving it. Based on your experiences I tend to see that your people interactions led progressively to making the goal clearer and therefore they organized towards achieving it.
I do not know if you would agree, dear Lori
Lori, I want to apologize for some spelling mistakes in my previous comment. People I wrote it as propel and other mistakes. I have had two knee surgeries and pain keeps my focus away. Again, sorry for this
Turgid must read turbid
Rovers must read covers
Lori, may I suggest to you to make your comment on the presentation with a link to your site. I feel readers are entitled to your lovely and inspiring comment + you make them aware of your lovely website
Yikes, two knee surgeries! I hope you heal quickly and feel better soon!
I think that we are both correct. I agree that our “people interactions led progressively to making the goal clearer and therefore they organized towards achieving it.”
I’m not opposed to the idea of having a grand goal. My perspective is just that grand goals emerge from within self-organizing groups (our grand selves, if you will). In our case, we couldn’t fully see what our grand goal should even be until we started moving in the world together–deeply caring about the perspective of every other group member. And, in that particular case, upper-level management–pulled in a million different directions and responsible for making money–weren’t necessarily the best “grand goal” finders/creators.
Think my primary point is that management not giving us a grand goal doesn’t give us an excuse for not do amazing work. We can all self-organize and, together, find amazing grand goals to work on. In my experience, having a struggling, somewhat clueless upper management level is an IDEAL condition for creating amazing self-organizing groups that do amazing work (too-busy management, when they see people rallying around your group, can eventually recognize the value, get on board, and become your biggest promoters).
From my perspective, self-org groups matter more than the goal because the groups demonstrate what it takes to get there, foster both self-esteem (“yea us!”) and humility (“I could NEVER be doing this without them.”), foster more self-organizing groups (making the whole organization stronger), and help individuals within them and nearby recognize when what matters most to them has changed and when it’s time for them to let go.
Lastly, my perspective today is that people aren’t innately selfish. It’s just a question of which “self” they are thinking of in any given moment. In most moments in which we’re thinking “What’s best for my individual self?” our actions and behaviors could be judged as selfish. In the moments we’re thinking “What’s best for my collective self?” fewer people around us would judge us as selfish (and we also judge fewer others around us as selfish). In self-organizing groups, we’re more naturally thinking “What’s best for my collective self?” so we’re doing it more often. Together we become our own teachers for letting go of our “selfish” ways. And we forgive our individual selves (and other individual selves) more readily when we mess up, in part because group members are inclined to forgive us faster than we’re inclined to do so for our individul selves.
Sorry to rattle on. Your knees have likely healed by now!
I agree were are both correct. I congratulate you for you have written a concise and convincing response.
Think there are less than 5 people on earth who would call me “concise”! 🙂 Thank you!!
I agree that we were are both correct. I congratulate you for you have written a concise and convincing response.