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

Reinventing organizations: emphasis on culture and completeness

In his book ‘Reinventing organizations’, management writer Laloux explains his vision on organizations based on research in a number of progressive organizations. Positive relations and culture are important elements in his approach (read more about the background of happiness at work and positive relations as one of its building blocks).

Laloux speaks about “Wholeness”. This means organizing the willingness to listen and pay attention to one another. He also mentions examples of organisations where people bring their kids (in a daycare centre linked to the organisation) or their dogs to work. The effect of this is that the classical professional dynamic is being reinvented (click here for an article about office dogs).

Wholeness as a principle has consequences for how organisations hire new employees, how they agree to intereact with one another, how they organise time and space to reflect, how people tell each other stories and how they organise meetings. An intriguing example is an organisation where they agreed to ring a bell each time someone is violating the groundrules of safe and healthy interaction. Wholeness also changes the way organisations deal with working hours. This builds on the assumption that work is an important part, but not the only part of employees’  lives. Performance interviews are being organised from the perspective of learning and deeply felt commitment and attention based on challenging questions and not based on judgements and fear.

To implement Completeness, there are a number of possible interventions: 1) creating a safe environment, 2) storytelling, 3) creating space for reflection, 4) a new approach to working hours and 5) a new approach to performance and performance reviews.

ad 1. Creating a safe environment that invites and enables employees to being themselves. Laloux mentions the creation of groundrules and principles of engagement and he suggests to make rules for how to deal with violations of those groundrules and principles. An example is to have meetings take place in such a way that personal egos cannot get in the way of the purpose of the meeting (also see the Integrative Decision Making method from Holacracy). Assigning a specific observer role in meetings can help. This role will monitor the application of the agreed upon ground rules and principles of respectful engagement and signals violations of those rules and principles. Another example is to build in check-in moments in every meeting to allow participants to get rid of mental distractions so they can fully focus on the meeting.

ad 2. Inviting people to tell sotries. In comparison to the usual team building efforts like bowling, storytelling enables people to connect on a more profound level.

ad 3. Creating space for reflection, both in terms of time as well as in terms of physical space. Some organisations work with repetitive moments of collective reflection. Other ways of organising reflection are: coaching sessions or practicing new behaviour through role play facilitated by actors and trainers.

ad 4. A new approach to working hours deals with making agreements in such a way that the work and the results will be delivered, but at the same time to ensure that there is sufficient time and space for other factors and aspects in employees’  lives. In a situation of self steering there needs to be a certain degree of flexibility, but at the same time, people are expected to come up with solutions in order to deliver on the commitments that they have committed themselves to do.

ad 5. A new approach to performance reviews means discussing performance based on connectedness, curiosity and appreciation, looking for what goes well, possibilities for growth and based on challenging questions.

From the perspective of completeness, Appreciative Inquiry is a very valuable method: “Find a bright spot and clone it” – based on the authors of Switch (Dan and Chip Heath). This approach is based on finding solutions for complex issues by looking for what works, despite the challenges and setbacks and how that can be scaled up. This generates more energy than an approach that is focused on problems and challenges.


Frederic Laloux, 2016, Reinventing organizations, Lannoo Publishers

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

PTSD and burn-out


According to the Dutch Agency for Statistics, 10% of the Dutch labour force suffer from burn-out related complaints. Burn-out is a combination of exhaustion, cynicism, and a lower self-esteem / lower perception of own competences. This situation of being overstrained is a result of prolonged emotional overload and stress. Risk factors are: high work pressure, bad working atmosphere, limited influence and low rewards. Burn-out is most common between the ages of 35-55, although the millennials (18-34) also are a high risk group, acoording to recent research (1). The higer the education level of employees, the higher the chances of suffering from burn-out complaints. Health care and Education are higher risk industries.

The sick leave figure in the Netherlands has been stable for years – since 2006 this is between 3.8% and 4.2%. The industry with the lowest figure is the catering industry (2.2% in 2016). Public administration and health care have the higherst figure – 5.3% and 5.1% respectively. The lower figure in the catering industry mainly is a result of the composition of the labour force – mainly young people – who are generally speaking less often ill. Furthermore – according to the Dutch Agency for Statistics the employees in the catering industry have more freedom than in other industries to decide whether and when they take leave plus their employment arrangement is generally a flexible contract. The last two factors contribute to a lower absenteeism. (2)

According to company doctors, 70-90% of all sick leave are non-medical. They state that half of all absenteeism can be reduced if organisations create a culture in which employees can talk about their questions and issues. (3)

The percentage of the labour force suffering from burn-out related complaints (10%) sounds like a lot. But what if there is a margin in the measurements and in the figures? The examples above point in that direction. Just like the PTSD figures (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in the US. According to Seligman (4) there is – amongst other things – also a degree of a self fulfilling prophecy. As soon as US soldiers who are familiar with the phenomenon of PTSD notice that they are sad as a result of a traumatic experience, they immediately link this to PTSD. At the same time, feelings of sadness are a natural reaction to a traumatic event and are not necessarily an indication of PTSD. Furthermore, there are also financial consequences: as long as a US soldier suffers from PTSD related complaints, they are entitled to receiving a disability payment per month for the rest of his or her life. Such a payment is not being granted in many other armies in the world. Seligman has compared PTSD figures between the British and the US army: 20% of US soldiers that have been on a mission to Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD related complaints, while for the Britisch soldiers, this figure is 4%. So there appears to be a margin in the figures, depending on the measurement, the perception and the financial consequences. What if a similar thing is applicatble to the burn-out figures in the Netherlands?

We can learn a lot from people who have returned successfully after a burn-out. These people show resilience and research has shown that resilience is important for dealing with stress and for happiness at work. And the good news is: resilience can be developed and trained.

(1) Jan Derksen, professor clinical psychology and psychotherapy, Radboud University and Brussels University in Metro – 1 juli 2017
(2) CBS:
(3) Volkskrant 13-3-2016:
(4) Seligman, Martin, 2011, Flourish – A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being – and How To Achieve Them, Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Holacracy – Robertson

The concept of Holacracy (Robertson) is based on the assumption that the top-down and predict & control paradigm no longer suffices. Holacracy is a way of organising in which the organisation continuously adjusts itself. Holacracy consists of the following elements:

1. clear rules of the game which redistribute the decision making powers and authorities and empower those who are connected with the daily reality of the organisation on the ground
2. a new structure with clear roles and mandates
3. a decision making process for continuously updatint these roles and mandates (governance meetings) – also see the post about Governance in Holacracy.
4. a specific set of meetings to safeguard the connectedness between the organisational entities and to get things done. (operational / tactical meetings) – also see the post about Governance in Holacracy.

ad 1. Holacracy builds on the process and not on personal leadership and this makes the organisation less dependent on one or more strong leaders which is typical for many organisations. This ilso creates a more equal dynamic than the parent – child relationship which characterises the dynamics between different (management) layers in many organisations. The redistribution of power and decision making authorities is done in such a way that everyone’s role, responsibilities and mandates are clear and there is no overlap between roles. Each role has a distict and confined responsibility about which only that particular role can make decisions. In Holacracy there are no traditional managers who (can) prescribe how certain tasks need to be performed. Each role has clear responsibilities and each role can to take decisions autonomously within the boundaries of that responsibility. Obviously, each role can ask for help, input or advice from others.

ad 2. The traditional organisational structure in Holacracy is replaced by circles. Traditional job descriptions are replaced by roles. Circles can exist next to each other or can be part of a larger circle. The overarching circle which spans the whole organisation is called the anchor circle. People can fulfill multiple roles and they can be part of multiple circles. Each circle has – next to the roles that are necessary to deliver the primary process of that circle – a number of specifically designed roles: lead link role, facilitator, secretary, representative link role. the lead link is being appointed by the lead of the super circle – the larger circle of which the particular circle is a part. The lead link monitors objective and strategy of the circle and assignes roles to people. the representative link role is being elected by people who are part of the circle. The rep link represents the circle’s perspective in the super circle, or overarching circle and ensures – through governance meetings – that the overarching circle creates the right conditions for the proper functioning of the circle.

Also the facilitator role and the secratary role are elected by the people in the circle. The facilitator chairs the operational and governance meetings of the circle according to a specified protocol and the secretary provides transparent reporting of the agreements made so these can be accessed by all at all times.


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

Governance | Holacracy – Robertson

In Holacracy  (Robertson) there is a clear governance process for keeping roles up-to-date: on regular intervals (e.g. every two weeks), each organisational entity (in Holacracy these are called “circles”) will hold a governance meeting to detail and sharpen the relationships between the roles. This is done in a strictly defined procedure which eliminates interference from outside people’s own roles and responsibilities – the Integrative Decision Making process. This process is aimed at solving tenstions that are perceived by a specific role. The person experiencing a tension is expected to come up with a proposal how to solve this. This proposal will be accepted unless there are valid objections that are being brought to the table. An objection is only valid if:

a. the objective / purpose of the circle is jeopardised if the objection is not properly dealt with, and
b. the objection will be materialised by accepting the proposal (i.e. the objection is currently not existing; it needs to be a result of the proposal to be valid), and
c. the objection is backed up with existing evidence / information or – in case the objection is a prediction, there are sufficient opportunities for timely adjusting, should the proposal be accepted, and
d. the proposal limits the role / mandate of the person who is submitting the objection.

In case there are valid objections (this conversation will be guided by the facilitator role), a new proposal will have to be deveoped, which addresses both the original tension as well as the objection. The new proposal will be tested to see whether there are new objections according to the criteria stated above.

The power of this procedure for adjusting the governance is that it is based on step-by-step improvements, based on actual tensions that people experience in their role. This prevents the paralising effect of approaches that seek to solve all problems in one effort. The disadvantage of such approaches is that these usually result in very conceptual proposals that are not very much linked to actual day-to-day problems.

Tactical meetings (about the operation / day-to-day affairs) are also guided by a strict protocol. The agenda of such a meeting is built around issues and the person / role submitting the issue needs to state clearly what they need in order to be able to proceed. In case this leads to adjusting existing roles, the specific issue will be referred to a governance meeting to be processed according to the Integrative Decision Making process.

The power of Holacracy is the ongoing effort to reflect on a transparent adjustment of relations between roles and the step-by-step improvement aimed at solving actual tensions that people experience in their roles. Clear roles and mandates are based on the assumption that a person in a particular role is assumed to be able to make decisions about what is needed in that part of the organisation. Transparent governence eliminates the need for organisational politics. Strategy in Holacracy sets a direction (priorities) without losing itself in making predictions. Organisations who work with Holacracy turn out to have less and more effective meetings.

An organisation that organises the governance in such a way, is continuously adjusting itself based on internal tensions, but also based on tenstions that the responsible persons feel in the outside world. I think this way of gradually discovering and developing solutions for these tensions is an elegant and more concrete translation of Laloux’ “being sensitive and responsive and listening to where the organisation naturally wants to go”.


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

Laloux: evolutionary purpose

Evolutief doel: een organisatie en haar strategie ontwikkelen zich net als de evolutie

One of the underlying principles in Laloux’ research is the “evolutionary purpose”: a purpose that the organisation naturally wants to pursue, instead of trying to predict the future. If we no longer start from te planning & control paradigm and if we see the organisation as a living organism, this also has implications for the roles of the people and the leaders in the organisation. Instead of predicting and planning their role shifts towards listening to and being sensitive to what the organisation naturally wants and subsequently helping the organisation to achieve that. This means being sensitive and responsive. An example of this is the Agile method. This perspective also has implications for strategy documents; in their existing form they are no longer necessary. Instead of documenting the proposed reaction to a predictable future, the organisation connects with other stakeholders to experiment in order to achieve new solutions for complex questions. Successful experiments can then be scaled up to other parts or even the whole organisation. This means an explicit and active effort to let go of existing perspectives and to explore the advantages of other (also external) perspectives. Laloux mentions some examples: Theory U (Otto Scharmer), Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space, Future Search en World Cafe.

As a professional I have been educated in the more traditional management theories and I have worked in organisations in which that perspective dominated. Although I have also studied and worked with the post-industrial or post-modern look at organisations and organising, Laloux’ way of describing his vision of an organisation as a living organism clashes with that other perspective. I strongly feel that the traditional way of organising no longer suffices, I also feel resistance towards the idea of “listening and being sensitive to what the organisation naturally wants”. Firstly, I don’t believe in an organisation as an entity with a free will (the post-modern thinkers call this reification: assigning human qualities to things and concepts). Secondly, I also have to get used to his use of language and words: the organisation as a mystical and spiritual higer power that reveals its secrets. Laloux may be right. The fact that I have trouble accepting that type of language also says a lot about the power and domincance of the traditional management theories. I do like the idea of discovering: by exploring new directions and allowing new perspectives, together with other stakeholders in and outside the organisation – new ways of working and new solutions for complex questions emerge.


Frederic Laloux, 2016, Reinventing Organisations, Lannoo Publishers