Three principles that set your organization free

Setting your organization free is quite a buzzword these days. It comes down to creating the needed trust in systems so that people can make decisions at work themselves, but it’s also about more than that; it’s about how we perceive human autonomy and value in our society and labor market.

The first principle is quite simple but super central. It was one of my first experiences with empowerment and self-leadership and it comes from a book I was given by my boss when leaving my first real job. It was one of the very early books written about self-management and -leadership and I still recommend it to people interested in organizational design and development (even though it’s based on military theory) because it has this simple message:

Organize yourself in a way so that decisions are made as close as possible to the task or problem.

Based on this principle, it is about hiring the best competencies and placing them as close to the tasks they are to solve, with as little interference from others, including managers and leaders, as possible. It sounds simple, but it is actually one of the biggest challenges in our organizations. We have good professional managers who make poor human decisions and good relationship-oriented managers who make poor profession specific decisions.

Another organizational principle I understood the importance of much later is that competent people will optimize their own resources to solve their tasks in the best possible way, as long as they are motivated and feel safe and secure.

If we build this belief into the foundation of our organizations, we actually do not need to control when and how people work, as long as we ensure that what we work on together is important, makes sense, and there is room to be oneself, fail, and speak one’s mind.

It’s quite ironic: we expect grown ups to handle large sums of money in their personal lives, manage their time, and take care of the people around them when they are off work. Why, then, do we feel the need to look over their shoulders in everything they do at work?

The last principle I want to share is that everyone has the potential to become excellent leaders in their own right.

By this, I don’t mean to be bosses or managers, but people who can lead themselves, their colleagues, and those more senior than themselves. A staff trained and motivated to lead each other needs no bosses.

However, principles of empowerment and self-management require hard work from everyone, especially in the beginning. There is a lot to learn and unlearn, and as in any other context where people come together for a common purpose, problems will arise along the way that need to be handled. But perhaps it doesn’t always have to be the boss who handles them in the future.

If you want to start your empowerment process, here are some good tips on how to do it:

  • Establish a common believe about the essens of humans (a view on humanity) that can serve as a guiding and decision-making reference when professional arguments run.
  • Identify and develop a leadership development approach and plan for all employees that aligns with the organization’s culture and resources.
  • Develop and prototype/pilot internal training in leadership, facilitation, process design, etc.
  • Incorporate a learning approach and organizational understanding based on action-based learning and learning mechanism tools.
  • Start working on creating self-sustaining structures for psychological safety in the organization.

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