I’ll be speaking at the ISPI conference in Orlando in a few weeks (Wednesday morning, April 13th) on this subject. Hope to see some of you there. Here’s the 2-page handout…

7 Tips for Rapidly Fostering Self-Organizing Work Groups

As an individual:

  1. Prioritize working/being with people who help you trust your instincts while stretching/expanding those instincts.
  2. As you can, let go of people and groups that you are only half committed to. If you’re not “in with both feet,” you’re not with your self-organizing work groups. This includes important people and groups you’ve been told you should know but that you can somehow never find time to fully devote yourself to them like you should.
  3. Be yourself. Your self-organizing work group members will be drawn to who you are—the real, messy, not-perfect you—from the start.
  4. Show up as a learner. Imagine your self-org groups as the adults and your individual self as a curious, child-like learner.
  5. Spend more time working with people to whom you are naturally drawn. This results in creation of groups that allow you to see yourself and a growing group of others as:
    • Naturally learning-centered and diverse. “I can see and appreciate both the overlap and the difference in our ideas, work, and selves.”
    • Easily and naturally able to generate energy. “I can feel the energy level go up when we’re together. In hindsight, I could feel this from the very beginning. Huh.”
    • 100% trustworthy. “They always go out of their way for me, and I do the same for them.”
    • Deeply connected. “I could almost instantly imagine that we’d enjoy working together and that we’d challenge and help each other.”
    • A collective self. “Yep, we share a brain. [collective laughter]” “His ideas were my ideas. I wanted to learn together so much that I felt compelled to reach out.”
    • Powerful. “I still can’t quite believe that this little group changed the whole division! But we did! The division changed itself, and we helped.”
    • Happy this moment. “Wow! I can’t believe we’re doing this!” “The results were nice, sure. But I still can’t believe how much we received as individuals and how much fun we had most days, even on the bad days.” “They are just amazing. I’d still do anything for them and they’d do the same for me.”
  6. As a group, watch and notice yourselves:
    • Giving more time and energy to each other and getting closer as a result. You won’t have to prompt yourself or others to get work done or to communicate in self-organizing work groups.
    • Evolving together. For example, how much trust you’re able to show up and lead with, how quickly you default to forgiveness, your comfort level with conflict and with not agreeing, your ability to allow group spontaneity to win out over individual plans and ideas, specific work-related skills improving, enjoying repeatedly being pulled and pushed outside of your comfort zone, letting go of the group with minimal fear at its end, being able to move in your system as a whole—without verbally checking in with each other all the time—and so on.
    • Being perceived as leaders and teachers by each other and nearby others. As these groups, we cannot help showing up as leaders and teachers. They foster other self-organizing groups and work groups simply by being themselves—visibly demonstrating people getting closer/smarter/stronger together while also demonstrating that group members themselves are not perfect. In them, we come to 1) recognize ourselves as the group first and as an individual second and act accordingly, 2) value difference above similarity or at least both to the same extent, 3) value learning above expertise, or at least both to the same extent, and learn from ourselves, 4) stop being afraid to be our true selves, and 5) recognize that we can no longer work any other way.
  7. As both, honor the larger self-organizing group you’re part of. It’s from these groups that self-organizing work groups spring forth. Self-organizing groups center on the eternal—friendship, joy, fellowship, love, or happiness—bringing them out in you so that you become capable of experiencing them in/with others. Self-organizing work groups—focused on work—are more temporary by nature.


What is a self-organizing group? A collective whose members are surprised and delighted by what they become and do together. They come fully into existence the moment group members recognize one or more of the following 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.

What is a self-organizing work group? A spontaneous group, created from within, to accomplish work of the moment.

How are these groups different from other types of groups I’m familiar with? Only you can answer that. As a group member and researcher, I can say that self-organizing groups:

  • Create themselves to support the individuals within them and those who matter most to them. Individuals don’t plan, lead, or help these groups succeed in the traditional sense. These groups help us as individuals, not the other way around. As individuals, we allow them to happen, let go into them, and eventually recognize ourselves as them.
  • Communicate volumes without words. They demonstrate more through group members’ energy, laughter, enthusiasm, humor, feelings of gratitude, growing fearlessness, and ability to let go than they do with words.
  • Sustain themselves as long as the group is needed; not one second more. The same goes for their meetings.
  • Are:
    • Learning-centered by nature. These are groups of learners. The individuals within them all have expertise but no individual is an expert at what the group is becoming and doing together. Group members and close nearby others know this.
    • More emergent (appearing to arise spontaneously) than planned. Group members and close nearby others know this.
    • Diverse by nature. Members are drawn together because of self-identified needs within themselves and strengths (different from their own) within other group members and the group itself. Group members and close nearby others know this.
    • Leaderful (everyone is a leader) or leaderless (there are no leaders), depending on how members feel about the word “leader”). Group members and close nearby others know this.
    • Happy when together—in person and imagination—through disagreement, conflict, and crisis.
  • Foster self-esteem while tempering individual ego.  Within these groups, people push and pull each other outside of their comfort zones until they eventually see strengths within themselves that they could at first only see in other group members. As members get closer, they become capable of seeing many more people and groups around/before/after them who support them, and they become thankful for the expanded view of themselves and others that the group makes possible.
  • Foster other self-organizing groups in all directions around them. Close nearby others are drawn to the group, pay closer attention, and experiment with self-organizing groups themselves.
  • Continue to help and support group members—and close nearby others—well beyond the official lifetime of the group. Group members become so close that, as individuals, they will go out of their way for other group members months, years, and decades after the lifetime of the group.