A new organization model called “self managing organizations” is gaining a following. The idea is essentially that individuals organize themselves based on their own clear understanding of their personal role and commercial mission. Each member of the organization is personally responsible for forging relationships, planning their own work, coordinating their actions with other members, acquiring requisite resources to accomplish their mission, and for taking corrective action with respect to other members when needed. Relationships and organization structure arise spontaneously as each person seeks to contribute their value to the organization. Decision-making is localized. Individual responsibility is maximized. This results in more self-directed work teams, employee empowerment, distributed decision making, “flattening” the organization, and elimination of bureaucratic red tape.
Formal, fixed hierarchy is non-existent. There are no managers who doll out assignments with due dates and then hold people accountable for delivering. Instead, each individual is accountable for coordinating around specific agreements they have made with each other. The approach relies on developing sound practices for making and keeping commitments. It is about the way in which people take action together by holding a shared commitment and facing changing realities.
The “conversation for action” principles originally developed by Drs. Fernando Flores and Terry Winograd back in the 1980’s still offer the most robust model for making and keeping commitments.
The smallest element of work is not a task, it’s a conversation about a task. Someone (a requester) is asking someone else (a performer) to do something. The conversation progresses through three stages – negotiation, delivery, and assessment. In the first stage, the performer considers the request in light of their other commitments and priorities and makes a commitment for a delivery schedule they can make. The requester and performer forge an explicit agreement. Following negotiation, the conversation moves into a delivery or in-progress stage. The two parties, along with any other followers to the task conversation, keep in touch about how the work is progressing, shifting priorties, and new issues that emerge along the way. At any point, if the need arises, the performer may request to amend the agreement, and the two parties renegotiate a new delivery schedule. Once the delivery is made, the conversation moves to the assessment stage in which the requester determines if the task is fully complete and offers thanks and/or feedback to the performer.
Note that this conversational model sounds obvious, but it is NOT how most of us actually operate. It’s rare to find clear requests, definitive delivery commitments, and explicit delivery and feedback.
The “self management” model holds great promise. But shifting to this model will require training around new conversational practices. Software, like CommitKeeper, can help guide and embed the new practice.