July 16, 2016
In the fall of 2015, I found myself reaching a breaking point with a typical organizational problem. The Social Edge team had grown to forty-five members, most of whom reported to me directly, the founder of this four year old professional services company. Prior to Social Edge, my background is one where I have both worked and managed at large companies, including Merrill Lynch and McGraw-Hill. My mentors and managers at such companies educated me on the same organizational management principles their managers had taught them: leadership, prescriptive management, and command and control. With so many direct reports at Social Edge, it became clear to me that if we did not act, we may be doing a disservice to our team members, clients, and the future growth potential of the company. It was time to mature as an organization.
I began discussing the finer points of adding a management layer to our organization with trusted colleagues. One such conversation set us upon a completely different trajectory. I was explaining our situation to a colleague, Kevin Jones, to garner his feedback. Kevin is a thought leader in employee engagement and social business, and someone we have worked with at Social Edge. Per usual, Kevin was listening attentively. When it came time for him to reply, he simply said, "You don't need any managers." He then explained the concept of self-management, following up with a few references, including a book recommendation that he said was a must read.
The book was "Reinventing Organizations" by Frederic Laloux. It had a profound impact on all I had learned about organizational management thus far. According to Laloux, a self-managed organization is one that seeks to empower all employees by inviting them to participate in bigger conversations about the company's overall purpose and objectives, "without the need for hierarchy or consensus." This transparency enables organizations to both "operate more efficiently as well as achieve much higher employee engagement" (Laloux, 2014). I dove in deeper, working through the majority of the book?s bibliography, along with other articles, websites and books that provided additional insight on the topic. I have included a list of the resources I found to be most helpful at the end of this post.
What I had learned helped me verbalize questions I have had much of my professional life. Could there be a management model that better honors the education, experience and talents of the individual in a deeper way? Can work be meaningful and fulfilling to all team members, not just a handful of employees? Throughout my career, I have been struck by the gap that existed between management and their direct reports. Information was kept "close to the vest" among a select few. There was clearly an "us" (management) and "them" (employees) ideology at play. Strategy and direction were often pushed down to the team and not a collaborative creation.
Knowledge workers and subject matter experts are both highly educated and passionate about their chosen professions. Most, if not all, are motivated not by just a paycheck but to do meaningful professional work. As front line workers, they can sense what clients need as well as pain points in the process. They don't need anyone to explain to them what needs to be done. Self-organization seemingly unleashes the team member to do great work and make a difference.
So at the end of 2015 we began our journey toward a self-organized model. We have broken up into smaller, more nimble teams and have increased the transparency of decision making, strategic direction, and financials (with the exception of compensation at this time). We are starting to have some encouraging "aha" moments as well as the "this is not quite working" discussions. As a team, we plan on sharing what we are doing and learning along the way.
Other reads that were very helpful in shaping my thoughts on what would be right for Social Edge: