There is one additional indicator of self-organization–at the group level–that I could not see at an individual level. As a self-organizing work group, you can:

Indicator #9. Re-form and immediately exist again, as needed, after your lifetime.

Demonstrated, for example, by:

  • Group members continuing to help each other, as needed, months and years after the lifetime of the group.
  • Group members happily coming together again after the group’s lifetime.
  • After the group’s lifetime, when together, members simultaneously demonstrating the same abilities and experiences that they experienced happening during their lifetimes. For example, although some members of the groups I’ve studied hadn’t seen each other or worked together for months or years, they immediately began speaking for the collective, expanding on each others’ ideas without feeling the need to come to agreement, openly sharing themselves without fear of hidden agenda, finishing each others’ sentences and thoughts, teasing each other, and so on.

Here in the United States, on our Veterans Day and Memorial Day holidays, you can turn on any TV and see groups of old soldiers  back together to remember. Decades, even whole lifetimes, may have passed, yet these veterans smile and laugh and hug–and sometimes cry–together, as if no time had passed at all. These have always been powerful, unforgettable images for me, because they demonstrate so much of what seems amazing about us as human beings. We have it in us to form connections unbounded by time, distance, and individual experience.

I’ve been consciously studying self-organizing work groups since 2006. In that time, I’ve been with several groups after their lifetimes (half a year to several years AFTER the working lifetimes of the groups). Group members are back together to reflect on their time as a group. Each time we do this, the experience feels similar. Group members smile and laugh and reminise and brainstorm and work, together, as if no time had passed at all.  I get to watch people who are clearly deeply connected, happy to be together, happy to help each other (and their current/former organizations, as needed), and happy to help and teach me. Soon enough, they pull me in to join them and share my own experience as a self-organizing work group member myself. I see in these groups the same thing I see in the old veterans on TV–people whose connections appear to be unbounded by time, distance, and individual experience. Better yet, I experience it myself. 

Does this sound like something our organizations could use more of? Our employees and customers? Teachers and students? Managers and administrators? Nurses, doctors, and patients? How about our individual, stressed-out work selves? Spend 10-minutes of conscious time with a self-organizing work group. For me, it has become a no brainer. I want to work in these groups, with these groups, and with the people who emerge from them. The first step for me was recognizing that I was already part of a group like this. Awareness, on my own, isn’t my strong suit. Fortunately for me, my self-organizing work groups help me experience and see what I can’t fully imagine and experience on my own.