Hi Cathy, I just got back from a 4-day, technology-free vacation at the Sleeping Lady Lodge near Leavenworth with the women of my book club. Nice to get away with girlfriends! Thank you for asking these four questions and prompting me to reflect on our time together at lunch last week. My own self-organizing groups always do this for me (and always ask the best questions)! Here are some ideas in response to your questions. Just ideas—not answers—I’m still learning. I’ll post these ideas as a blog post later in the week!

Thanks, in advance, for tolerating my researcher’s love of context and detail. I also look forward to our continuing conversation and to our individual and collective learning! – Lori

  1. What did you learn  – or, what will you add to your learnings after our group meeting? 
  • The first thought that jumped to mind is that, for me, our lunch demonstrates that I am one lucky person. I am blessed. It’s thanks to the groups that I study, write about, and talk about that amazing people and groups—like you and Greg and Doug—show up in my life. People I may never have met and gotten the opportunity to know otherwise. Your story as an individual—and as a group with Greg—was inspiring.
  • We’ll need to spend more time together for me to say (as a researcher) much more about what I see in us as a self-organizing group. Fortunately, as a group member I can say much more! 🙂 From my perspective within our group, the likelihood that we’ll evolve into a 4-person self-organizing group and/or work group at some point seems high. Like other groups I’ve studied, already in our group:
    • Each member has their own reason for joining/creating the group for themselves and was there because they wanted to be there.
    • From the beginning, we could imagine being better together than on our own.
    • In other group members, we see something similar to us and something different from us, and we are drawn to both. The differences will mean learning/growing/getting better/doing better. The similarities mean the learning/growing/getting better will be fun (most day).
    • In the groups I study:
      • Small (typically 2-person) groups work as a “collective self” for a while before the group grows to the next size (3, 4, or 5 people). You and Greg showed up as a 2-person group, and Doug and I did too. I’d guess that this bodes particularly well for us, because we’re starting with two small self-organizing groups already, not just one (like many of the groups I’ve studied). This is new to me. 🙂
      • People are surprised and delighted by what they become and do together. As they grow together as a group—to the point where they recognize the group itself as something special—-they will recall that they could feel something akin to this from the beginning. I felt this already at our first meeting. The fact that you used the words “amazing” and “fascinating” to describe our lunch indicates you likely did too. 🙂
      • At least some group members will feel like old friends to you from the beginning. I felt that way the first time I met Doug. And I felt that way the first time I met you. Almost like I’d met you before or already know you somehow.
      • People take rapid personal action to connect and personal action to re-connect. Before I even got home, Greg had asked me to join his LinkedIn network. As soon as I got home, I was compelled to invite both you and Greg to join the “recommended consultants” group on the Collective Self web site (I don’t do this with everyone I meet). You sent me a list of questions that same day. Doug and I have been going out of our way to work together and learn together since we met 8 months ago. All of these things indicate the beginnings of a 4-person self-organizing group or work group to me. Of course, I’m still learning. 😉
      • Foster reflection in the moment and more in hindsight
  • On a personal note, our lunch demonstrated to me that I’m on the right track with the decisions I’ve been making in my own life. I’ve spent the last few years making decisions based on what I learn in/with/as these groups. Some of them have been really tough—giving up my old (lucrative) instructional and curriculum design work, leaving Microsoft (and those lovely medical benefits), saying no to full-time work in an amazing university program, and instead focusing on full-time research and being available for self-organizing groups whenever/however they show up (my true loves) over having a business plan and making money as an individual consultant (something I care less about than I like to admit, even to myself). Meeting people like you, Doug, and Greg—from my perspective—is the reward I receive for giving myself to these groups. The more time I spend with and as these groups, the better my life gets. And if I’m going to consult, I like the idea of showing up as a self-organizing group, not as an individual, since these groups demonstrate their value far better than an individual can.

2. Do some self forming groups just gravitate  together  or do some like us have one or more members who initiate – and invite others?  

  • Several ideas in response to that:
    • From my perspective, self-organizing groups are more than self forming, they’re also self-sustaining and self-dissolving. By definition, they’re a little more internally created (“we created ourselves”) than externally created (“somebody else put me into or hired me into this group”) but also at least a little more emergent (appearing to arise spontaneously) than planned (built by designers). This is where important concepts like gratitude and humility and wonder come in, because members can start the sentence “We created ourselves…” but they always end the sentence with something like “…but we’re not entirely sure how it happened.” Or “…but everybody around us made our work possible.” Or some such thing. Within those I study, the idea of “self” evolves to include the individual and the group.
    • The visible action is less important than what happens inside people. Each group member starts the group for themselves, within themselves. For example, for me, our 4-person group started at our lunch. For Doug, it may have started before then, when he thought to himself “I think Greg should meet Lori” (or whatever he thought). For someone more work and results focused, the group may not start until we work together and get collective results, and so on. Everyone is an initiator, and everyone gravitates to the others and draws the others in.
    • Once groups get to the place where they self-identify as “We are a self-organizing group.” (more emergent than planned is included by definition), the group itself has become so important to them that they recognize the group itself as leader and teacher. This means that group members reflect more at the group level, notice more, and become increasingly humble as individuals. So, for example, when I do focus groups with the groups, they will give each other lots credit, accepting little for themselves, because they recognize the group itself as something special that they’re lucky to be part of. Talk to them long enough as a group, and they’ll also gladly collectively trace the group’s “origins” to co-workers, students, customers, family members, community members, partner organizations, vendors, friends, and ancestors—sending thanks out in all directions. I’ve even had groups thank the people who came after them, because they knew they could let go and move on because they were leaving their work to evolve in capable hands.
    • These groups don’t trace themselves back to an individual “founder” for several reasons: 1) each member is a founder (They can each remember the moment they created/joined the group for themselves and that story matters to the group.) and 2) no individual is the founder (When they talk about the beginnings of the group together, they talk about small group starts. Typically, they’ll trace themselves back to two people who started working together. Then, when they needed to evolve, a 3rd person joined, and so on.). And the “initiate” part may happen by anyone and by different people depending on your perspective. For example, one group traced itself back to two people. Then, a 3rd joined because she really liked one of those two people. Then a fourth joined because she liked what all 3 were doing together. And the 5th core member was pulled in by group members 3 and 4, so from his perspective, members 3 and 4—not 1 and 2—were the initiators.
    • For more info, I suggest any of the “fostering” blog entries, which can be found here: http://woocommerce-158966-458665.cloudwaysapps.com/category/fostering-self-organizing-groups/

3. Can people invite themselves as members of a self forming group?  

  • Hmm, yes and no:
    • People are drawn to self-organizing groups, create them for themselves, and become them (this is true of all members). Members become members because they want to become members. People volunteer at the beginning (the beginning for themselves, not somebody else’s beginning). When they join the group, they create the group for themselves, within themselves. When what matters most to them as an individual changes, they also leave the group in a similar manner—as an individual—but this time they are supported by other group members.
    • From my perspective today, “self” in “self-organizing” refers to the collective self slightly more than the individual self. When you can experience the group as yourself, like you can experience your individual self as yourself, you are in your self-organizing group. This isn’t something you can plan your way into as an individual. As an individual, you can recognize yourself as part of one.
    • The “no” part relates to this:
      • As an individual, you will be drawn to group members from the beginning. Individual egos don’t allow us to self-organize with just anybody. If I think someone is a total jerk, I will not be self-organizing with that person.
      • If group members aren’t drawn to you, like you are to them, then you won’t be seen as a self-organizing group member from their perspective. This doesn’t stop you from learning from and with them (as a nearby interested party) and in considering yourself a member in your own mind. I’ve learned this because I study people around these groups, not just core group members.
      • Not everyone I want to self-organize with will want to self-organize with me. For example, it’d be cool if Meg Wheatley called me up and said “Hey Lori, I’d love to work with you.” But that hasn’t happened yet. For a self-organizing group to form, the group members must be drawn to each other, want to be there, and go out of their way to give time and energy to each other, especially at the beginning. In my own life, I’ve learned that if I reach out to someone, and I hear back from an assistant or intern or some third party (exception: if they speak another language and need that person to communicate), then that person doesn’t see the potential in us working together right now. They may in the future. But I don’t waste any time pursuing people to become self-organizing group members with me. It’s the people who see our collective potential—from the beginning—who I want to work with! Self-organizing groups are groups of learners. Group members are surprised and delighted by what they become and do together. From the very beginning, group members can see potential in each other (both in what they’ll learn and what they’ll become and do together), even though they can’t imagine the details yet.
    • One nice part about being human is that within your own individual mind, you can become a member of any self-organizing group you want to become a member of and you can create your own. For example, Mahatma Gandhi has been part of my own group since I learned about him when I was 12, long after his death. His Holiness the Dali Lama joined my in-my-head group 10 years ago too. My parents, sister, husband, and grandparents have been in there for quite some time as well. From my perspective, I regularly take action to learn about and from these people—so they are group members for me.
    • These groups evolve group members and open us up to self-organizing with more people/groups. For example, I wasn’t a huge fan of one of the members of my first group, but I knew he had a perspective our group needed and I knew that the group member who I wholly trusted did trust him (even though I didn’t). Two years later, and countless hours working together, I had become this person’s biggest fan, because I knew his history, his family, his strengths (vastly different from mine), and I could see what an important part he’d played in our group and in my life. I learned more from him than almost anyone else, because he was so different from me. He’s a musician and a manager today. I may be his biggest fan—in both arenas. Today, years later, when he needs me for something, I’ll be there for him.
    • The “fostering” blog posts speak to this subject more. This one, off the top of my head, I know does:

4. What’s the difference between a group and a team?

  • Maybe none, that’s up to you.
  • I chose to use the word “group” years ago because in my own experience a “team” had an individual leader, founder, or coach. The teams that I worked on I was either hired into or placed into, and they had formalized structures, from-the-outside goals and mandates, and lots of “others” to point fingers at when things went wrong. However, within my self-organizing group, we worked fluidly together (most days), were all leaders, we stopped pointing fingers and blaming others (most days), and we stayed together out of both individual need and shared pull to be together to better serve those we cared most about. The word “team” had some baggage in my own experience that the word “group” didn’t. J I’ve stayed with the word group because it draws a wider variety of groups to me (or me to them) than I think “team” would. I now study groups outside of organizations that are less likely to call themselves “teams,” including flash mobs and friendship groups. Today, for me the words matter far less than the experience. When a collection of humans recognize the experience, that’s what matters to me. I’m looking to find and become a member of groups in which members talk about or demonstrate these things:
    • I get more from the group’s spontaneity than I do from my individual planning. We all do.
    • We generate energy together.
    • We’re more creative, adaptive, resilient, and fearless thanks to the group.
    • My life and work are more rewarding, impactful, and fun (most days) because of the group.
    • We are accomplishing more than we as individuals imagined or planned thanks to the group.
    • The group itself is the leader and teacher.
    • I’m grateful and feel lucky to be part of the group.
    • We are whole and happy—this very moment—thanks to the group.

And in which I myself experience these things when I am with them—both in person and in my imagination.