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Over 92% of companies say this is their key challenge: Don’t be a dinosaur

“We have made the workplace a frustrating and joyless place where people do what they’re told and have few ways to participate in decisions or fully use their talents.” – Dennis Bakke

It’s a bold, but true statement. As Bryan Ungard from Decurion stated in a recent conversation, there is “pervasive suffering in business”.  This suffering is at a very human level and has a devastating impact.

I’ve been on a mission my entire career to find better ways to design, operate, and lead organizations. This fascination led me to a book by Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations. This book has literally changed my life and career trajectory and began an incredible journey. What has emerged are several insights on what leadership looks like in the future of work and why your business may depend on it.

New Leadership Frameworks

After researching this movement for several years, it is clear a new way of leading is emerging. If you keep up with popular literature, you’ve heard of at least a few of these approaches: Holacracy, Sociocracy, self-management, shared leadership, participatory leadership, bossless workplace, flatarchies, you get the idea.  In an insightful article, The Role and Importance of Communication in Post-Hierarchical Leadership, the authors highlight the commonalities that run throughout this new paradigm of thinking:

  • They all turn their back on the top‐down driven, patronizing authority of management
  • There is more focus on emotions, not in a sentimental way, but employees are viewed as humans with feelings, moods and a meaningful life outside of the work space
  • There is an increased focus on establishing and maintaining a healthy relationship between a manager or a leader and the team or the individual employees
  • There is a strong shift away from bureaucracy and hierarchy
  • There is a spread of responsibility as well as accountability across teams or even departments
  • There is a significant decrease in the importance of titles and roles

Several organizations are already well on their way in implementing such approaches. Check out how GE has used a version of self-management since 1982.  Examine how Percolab has driven results with a role-based self management system or look at how Buurtzorg has paved the way toward teaming in the home health industry.

Why now?

You’ve heard this story many times before. We live in a world of constant and accelerating change, we have more information than we could ever possibly handle, and our workforce is demanding a new way of working. Long story short, the organizational model of old no longer meet our needs.

  • 92% of the companies surveyed cited “redesigning the way we work” as one of their key challenges, making this the #1 trend of the year.  Josh Bersin
  • Among the 7,000 companies who responded, the #1 issue on leaders minds is “how to redesign our organizational structure” to meet the demands of the workforce and business climate today. Deloitte

Equally as important, this leadership strategy is successful. Here is a quick example from Buurtzorg:

  • Buurtzorg requires on average 40% fewer hours of care per client than other nursing organizations
  • Patients stay in care only half as long
  • Hospital admissions are reduced by one third

(Reinventing Organization, 2014, p. 352).

If you are a leader of an organization and not thinking about how your structure is enabling or impeding your success, I invite you to do so!  Visit my blog to stay up to date on the latest trends and research in organizational design and development.

What is Self-Management?

I like this simple definition from the On Human Enterprise:

“Being able to work toward a shared purpose with others, in a way that gives one freedom to make decisions about one’s own work and a voice in discussions that matter.”

Below the surface, self-management requires a fundamental mind-shift in the way we view organizations, leadership, and our colleagues. The Morning Star Company, a leader in self-management operates from the core beliefs that:

  • People are happiest and most productive when they have personal control over their lives
  • People are “thinking, energetic, creative and caring human beings of integrity”
  • The best human organizations are those in which people aren’t managed by others, but in which participants coordinate among themselves, managing their own relationships and commitments to others

You’ll find with most organizations operating in a self-managed way, there is a belief that mankind is good.

What’s next?

It is generally agreed that an organization will only evolve to the level of its top leaders.  That requires senior leaders to take a good look in the mirror and examine their own beliefs and desires in taking their organization to the next level.  Literally, leaders need to be the change they want to see. If you are ready to embark on this transformation, reach out to me directly at to guide and support you on this journey.

I have gone through an intensive training program with some of the best leaders in this field and will share my learning throughout the month of August on the key steps to self-management and deeper accountability. Contact me for more information or support as you take your organization to the next level.

Further Reading:

Enlivening Edge – a community and knowledge center dedicated to the journey organizations are making toward self-management

Wiki – A living site that details the practices of self-managing “Teal” organization”

Reinventing Startups – a practice toolkit for Founders and Leaders

LeadWise Academy – a deep dive into self-management practices

Culture Model – a great video describing “Teal” Organizations