Self management

In his plea for reinventing organisations, Frederic Laloux states that the traditional ways of organising are no longer sufficient for the requirements of the current time. There must be something wrong with the way we organise if Gallup research (2013) shows that only 13 percent of employees feel committed to and involved in their work. He makes a plea for a new way of organising that is more coherent with what he calls a “teal” perspective of the world (he bases the colourscheme on the work of Ken Wilber who uses colours to distinguish several phases of human development). In this Teal perspective, the world is no longer seen as a given or as a machine. Instead the world is perceived as a place in which we have a mission to discover and develop our own uniqueness, to unfold our unique potential and to make use of our talents. People who embrace the Teal perspective, learn to let go of certain set ideas of what should be. Laloux has studied organisations who have organised themselves according to these principles. Central pillars are self organisation, self management and an appreciative approach to reality.

One of the cases that Laloux studied and describes elaborately is Buurtzorg, a Dutch nursing organisation for home care. Buurtzorg is structured into self managing teams of 10-12 nurses without manager or team leader. Laloux describes Buurtzorg as a huge success: nine thousand employees – two thirds of all neighbourhood nurses in the country – all work in teams of 10-12 nurses, without manager, supported by a “headoffice” of only 28 people. It appears to be such a success that self management as a concept is being copied blindly in other organisations, removing management layers without embracing and applying the underlying principles. Purposeful organising or organising with attention is not a matter of mindless copying; it is a matter of making conscious choices in both the design of the organisational structure as well as the underlying principles of managing and steering. It is also a matter of providing the right conditions for letting the appropriate solutions emerge and grow. The metaphor that is appropriate for a Teal organisation is that of a living system. This ensures a maximum fit with the environment. If we would be able to plan and design from behind our desks, the organisation would be more suitable for the industrial era, not for the current times. Laloux makes a distinction between complex systems and complicated systems. In a complicated system – despite the complexities – it is clear how the components are related and will react to one another. A complex system is also complicated, but in a complex system the consequences of certain interventions cannot be predicted. Obviously an organisation in a changing environment is a complex system.

Some of the underlying principles in Laloux’ research are self management, distributed decision making powers and collective intelligence. Self management requires a powerful decision making procedure. Laloux calls this the advice method: everyone can make a decision about everything, but one is required to first obtain advice from others who have experience and who will have to deal with the consequences. Robertson (Holacracy) describes a more advanced procedure with clearer mandates and decision making authorities. See more in the post about Holacracy | Robertson. Such a way of organising has consequences for the structure (no management roles), reward (based on a proposal by the employee to a salary panel of peers with co-workers volunteering for a role in the panel), performance management (no top-down targets).


Frederic Laloux, 2016, Reinventing organizations, Lannoo Publishers

The auto pilot of the traditional management theories

de automatische piloot van het klassieke managementdenken

Many organisations depart from the rational planning & control paradigm and the metaphor of the organisation as a (military) machine. This perspective assumes a world that can be planned for and can be predicted in which the organisation must function as a well oiled machine. This is often being enforced by strong leadership and top-down steering. This paradigm is very useful in stable environments, where the playing field is known and the future to a large extent predictable – the industrial era. In the current post-industrial era, that perspective is no longer sufficient because of the ever increasing level of complexity, transparency, interconnectedness, globalisation, economic instability, climate change challenges and the pressure on companies to have a positive impact in the world. This forces organisations to focus more on learning and adaptability rather than on predicting and planning & control

Besides the strategic importance and the chances of survival of an organisation, also from the perspective of the people working in an organisation, the traditional way of organisaing does not match with the requirements of the current times. We will have to find a new and more purposeful / attention-full way of organising.

Goedhart and Van der Steen also write about this: In many organisations, but also in science, there is still a great deal of trust in rationality, materialism and in a society that can be engineered. They also notice a shift of perspectives. In the science this started with Planck’s quantum theory (“what you measure is being influenced by the measurement”). This questions the Descartian vision of an objectively measurable and predictable reality. Also Einsteins relativity theory and Lorenz’ chaostheory show that we cannot (always) understand the world through linear cause-effect logic. They perceive a similar trend in organisational theory: It appears that after the machine metaphor of rationality and predicatability there is now a growing interest for the evolving and chaotic perspective. More and more organisations are searching for processes of self organisation, self management and an appreciative mindset.

This requires another approach to leadership and management than we are used to in the traditional management theories, which builds on a dependency on powerful leaders. It requires a different perspective on leadership which aimes to make / let all employees be as strong as they can be. In this situation, not all decision making is with a central leader, so leadership can be freed up for other roles, e.g. paying attention to needs in and outside the organisation and how the organisation can respond to those needs. This has implications for the ego of more traditionally oriented leaders: leaders and managers will no longer build their identity and added value on decision making powers, but on guidance and searching. It is clear that this will not happen automatically – specifically not, since ego’s are at stake. That is why it is important to work on organisational awareness and language. It is important that an organisational discussion is started on these topics, for instance in management- and leadership development programs.


Frederic Laloux, 2016, Reinventing organizations, Lannoo Publishers

Brian Robertson, 2015, Holacracy, Henry Holt & Co.​

Goedhart, Van der Steen, 2016, Proceskunde – en pleidooi voor werken met aandacht, Kessels en Smit The Learning Company