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┬áKen 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