View out my window at ISPI 2011 conference in Orlando

Last week I spoke to three groups at the International Society for Performance Improvement annual conference about how to rapidly foster self-organizing work groups. First attendees identified their own self-organizing groups by writing down the names of people and groups who came immediately to mind for them in response to the following statements:

  1. I get more from the group’s spontaneity than I do from my individual planning. We both/all do.
  2. We generate energy together.
  3. We’re more creative, adaptive, resilient, and fearless thanks to this person/group.
  4. My life and work are more rewarding, impactful, and fun (most days) because of this person/group.
  5. We are accomplishing more than we as individuals imagined or planned thanks to our group.
  6. The group itself is the leader and teacher.
  7. I’m grateful and feel lucky to be part of this group.
  8. I’m more whole and happy—this very moment—thanks to this person/group.


I asked them to circle one or two of the groups that mattered most to them at the moment and to then reflect on the question: “What fostered the formation of this group?” I planned to give them several minutes to think. They didn’t need it. Without skipping a beat, discussion poured forth—fluid, fun, energetic, and easy discussion. (From my perspective, an indicator that we ourselves had become self-organizing groups in the moment.)

The three groups’ answers overlapped considerably. They answered:

  1. We were all dedicated to the same ideas
  2. Love
  3. Shared love of what we are learning
  4. Biology
  5. Shared values
  6. Self-awareness
  7. Shared work
  8. Food
  9. Shared community
  10. Flexibility
  11. Going where the energy led me
  12. Mutual interests
  13. My parents
  14. We had things to teach each other and things to learn from each other
  15. Sense of humor

I got to listen as person after person described amazing groups they were/are part of: organizational leaders describing their inspirational dance groups, professional educators describing their amazing marriages, corporate executives describing their remarkable volunteer groups within their professional associations, experienced consultants describing their emerging community improvement group, and so on.

Wow. Just wow. Either I happened to stumble upon the three savviest groups of strangers ever to coalesce (and one familiar face—hi Ray!—who joined me at last year’s conference too) or some of my suspicions about these groups are starting to feel more true. My suspicions, based on the 30 self-organizing groups I’ve studied so far (and now the three ISPI groups that showed up and self-organized with me), include:

  • We (living beings) are naturally self-organizing.
  • We are all part of self-organizing groups, and we all learn from our own self-organizing groups.
  • We learn our most useful and valuable life lessons from our own self-organizing groups.
  • We have it in us to recognize ourselves as self-organizing groups—that is, to bring self-awareness to our self-organizing groups.
  • We can let go of individual ego, fears, and judgments within our own self-organizing groups.
  • As individuals, we show up as learners within self-organizing groups. Our self-organizing groups show up as leaders and teachers for ourselves and nearby others.
  • The best ideas for fostering self-organizing work groups in the work place come from reflecting on what we learn/who we are/what we do in our own self-organizing groups. When we struggle with bringing forth these groups in one area of our lives—in our department, organization, division, district, company, field, discipline, and so on–we can bring forth lessons learned from within the self-organizing groups in which we aren’t struggling.
  • Our lives—and the lives of those close to us—improve as we spend more time in/with/as and reflecting on our self-organizing groups and work groups.
  • We become self-organizing group field generators in any moment that we:
    • Reflect on our time within our self-organizing groups
    • Recognize and honor the life and power within our self-organizing groups
    • Share our experiences within self-organizing groups with others
    • Recognize ourselves as self-organizing groups

Thank you ISPI groups!

To keep learning about fostering self-organizing groups and work groups, see: