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The ways in which organizations operate today are undergoing a profound change. Applying more agile ways of working has become an important area of development for many organizations and self-management is a topic for which answers have begun to be sought. This article will help you get in the right direction in developing a self-managed operating culture.

More agility, faster response and resilience. These things are achievable with a self-managed operating culture. At the heart of these traits are speed, flexibility and pro-activity – how to successfully combine scalable resources, best practices and know-how for quality work.

A lot of misunderstandings are easily associated with self-management. If you start to develop the operating culture of your organization in the direction of self-management with the wrong background information, your development project is on the wrong track from the very beginning and the consequences will be in line with it.

Make sure you understand what self-management really means

Self-management is about ways of organizing and working. It is the ability to act on one’s own initiative without the need for external guidance and control. Self-management does not mean coping alone. It is the other way round. For a self-managed organization to function at all, the emphasis must be on working together and interacting with each other.

Self-management is also about the organizational capability to guide and support a self-managed operating culture. Self-management creates the need to reorganize the ways the organization does things. It challenges organizational structures, existing practices and ways of thinking.

Check your own beliefs about interacting and working with others

Development towards self-management requires a review of your own ways of thinking. Your beliefs about other people are directly reflected in how you interact and work with them. Consider for a moment the following questions and your own actions:

Can you create an atmosphere of trust in which people dare to develop?
Self-managed organizations act in the belief that people are not immature, but responsible adults who can be trusted. They believe people do not need extensive control. They perform best with lots of autonomy. They prefer to let employees decide where, when and with whom to work.

Are you willing to create real mission for people to be motivated?
Your focus should be on building a workplace around common purpose and values. Because having purpose and meaning gives people the energy, passion, and motivation to get out of bed in the morning. And do not bother creating or redefining a purpose if you do not plan to use it.

Can you guide people to take responsibility for themselves and what they do?
Self-management is tough. Dialogues are tougher and conflicts must be resolved by nobody but those involved. You must fix your problems yourself. People often think that self-management is easier because you can do whatever you want, but this is not the case. You cannot simply run nor hide. If people don’t honor the commitments, they have made with each other, self-management is doomed to fail.

Can you share the development work between the team and not just do it yourself?
Stop telling, start asking. Facilitate your teams with the opportunity to work more decentralized and distributed. Your team needs to learn how to decide for themselves where to work, how to work, when to work, and with whom to work. It will force individuals and teams to be more focused on collaboration and on sharing information effectively.

Are you ready to introduce an experimental culture as a way of development?
Experiment properly, fail masterfully. Whether you like it or not, these two go together. Before people start experimenting, they must feel safe enough to fail. Without psychological safety, you will get nowhere. Create an environment in which it is safe to try. Run the experiment. Then evaluate, learn, and adapt.

These questions will help you outline how willing you are to guide the development of a self-managed operating culture. They also describe some key principles related to self-management and its development. In order to develop a self-managed culture, you need to be able to stand behind them and actively promote them.

Be aware of what are you doing and why

In principle, there is no complete model of self-management that could be replicated for use by every organization. You need to have a common understanding of what are you developing and why. Start by thinking about what kind of self-management model is right for your organization’s needs.

  • Is self-management about people´s ability to lead more themselves and make better use of their abilities in their work?
  • Or do you want people to be more actively involved in developing their own and their team’s work?
  • Or do you want teams to develop, lead and organize their own work?
  • Or are you talking about a way for the whole organization to act that allows for agile re-organizing according to changing needs and opportunities.

Based on your aim, you can think about what kind of structures and ways of working you can set out to strengthen the desired direction of self-management.

Manage the change forward effectively

Effective change management is a typical challenge in developing a self-managed operating culture. Circumstances create pressure for rapid change and at the same time it must be recognized that the organization is not like a technically repairable machine.

Making change is a very human activity. New ways of working do not arise by themselves. They are made and implemented by people. Changing the operating culture to support self-management requires a concrete change in both the ways of thinking and doing.

Focus on acting and constantly starting new experiments instead of thinking. Enable experience with new behavior – e.g., learn new methods and ways of working, co-create with customers, try out new meeting formats, create new more agile structures, create new frameworks and spaces for co-operation, train new skills and tools, and operate with common learning platforms.