The increased use of agile methods1 means that self-organization in teams is becoming more and more of a focus. And that’s a welcome change! Really. Unfortunately, the hype surrounding this new holistic treatment for crusty hierarchical structures can cloud the view of what matters: the inner nature of an agile approach – whether it’s in project methodology or agile organization – touches on a renaissance of network-oriented teams as a foundation for flexible, adjustable and anti-fragile organization2.
Why renaissance? Even long before the new hype surrounding agile project methods and agile organization, companies were busy adjusting their organizational structures. This was more about doing more in the group and trusting more to the group within the right framework conditions3. This allowed a significantly higher level of self-management and self-organization to develop. In complex situations, some individuals can never keep track of the variety of singular topics and their inter-connectivities. So teams and their networks of relationships take on the key role. To now better understand the self-organization of teams in networks, it helps to take a look at the people and to take a quick trip into our neural networks, as these internal networks organize themselves.
Synergetics – the teaching of self-organization4 – summarizes this succinctly as follows: “Self-organization means the spontaneous occurrence of order in circular, cycling processes”5. Cycling processes mean that feedback processes in the sense of feedback loops take on an important role6. This results in self-organizing teams having excellent communication. It has neither to do with laissez-faire muddling through or chaotic daily structures, nor with grassroots democracy.
No matter what current set-up or procedure structure I choose, the kicker is always teamwork and team spirit, group dynamic, interfaces and the specific framework parameters. If, over the past few years, an organization characterized itself through a strong hierarchical culture with few decision-makers and a permanent view upwards, then a new and more elementary path is required. It’s about leading managers and employees into a new world.
This generally triggers a fear of losing control among many managers. If you’ve spent decades defining yourself by power and control, you will not spontaneously welcome new levels of freedom or even new responsibilities, no matter what the method is called. Overall, there is a fundamental trust in the ability of employees that make competent decisions as well as any manager. But this trust tends to be absent in most management staff that are used to strict hierarchies. This is what makes a change of attitude so integrally important for them.
If any such process isn’t properly prepared and meaningfully directed, there is a major risk that old internal patterns will simply be disguised as new!
1 See also blogs from the world of business no. 02 and 07.
2 Anti-fragile: reference Taleb, Nassim Nicholas: Anti-Fragilität Anleitung für eine Welt, die wir nicht verstehen. Btb publishing house: 2014.
3 Doppler, Klaus; Lauterburg, Christoph: Change Management. Den Unternehmenswandel gestalten. Campus: 2002. page 155 and onwards.
4 Haken, Herrmann; Schiepek, Günter: Synergetik in der Psychologie, Selbstorganisation verstehen und gestalten. 2nd edition Hogrefe publishing house: 2010.
6 Example: in thermostat-regulated heating, a temperature that is too low triggers a heating process that leads to a temperature increase. This in turn causes the heating to be turned off, which causes a lower temperature and so on.