I study self-organizing work groups of people in within, across, and outside of organizations. Self-organizing work groups can be difficult to see—even for some who are part of them—in part, I think, because they look and act differently from what many of us think of when we think “team,” “work group,” “department,” and so on.

So how do I know when I’m part of one? How do we know if our group is self-organizing? This is the first of a series of posts that document what I learned in my study. Interestingly (at least to me), after I saw these indicators of self-organization in the groups I studied, I became capable of seeing the same indicators in all the people who took part in my study—group members, their peers, their managers and administrators, and even in myself. That was a very cool day.

Indicator #1: Openly Sharing Yourself

I am self-organizing when I:

1. Openly share myself. Demonstrated, for example, by sharing:

  • Your fears
  • Your mistakes (your own, your team’s, your department’s, your division’s, your organization, your district’s, etc.)
  • An experience of chaos/chaotic times
  • What you believe, even when you know that it directly contradicts what another individual or group just said

As a group, we’re self-organizing when we:
1. Openly share ourself. Demonstrated, for example, by:

  • Group members can reflect honestly together
  • The group can communicate its purpose to anyone in its environment
  • Group members act on their espoused values (people within and outside the group can see this in the group members)
  • The group brainstorms, experiments, and works through its difficulties with outsiders present