As the concept of self-management becomes more popular, there is much dialogue about the shift leaders need to make in order to make space for a ‘bottom upwards’ movement. Whilst this is a key shift that’s needed in organisations that want self-management to thrive, there is also an equal shift needed in staff supporting the leadership to make this shift by taking responsibility.
This might not sound like new news but the issue here, I find, is how hard this is for some people. Having experimented for 17 years with different forms of self-management in Meeting Magic (MM) I can look back and see how many people love the concept but can’t cope with the reality. At the moment we have about a 50% success rate in bringing new team members on board, and that is usually following a significant period of mutual exploration before they join.
The problem was beautifully described by a colleague through the metaphor of parenting. Fiona Stratford recently compared joining Meeting Magic to when she was pregnant, and everyone told her, ‘becoming a parent will change your life.’ To which Fiona nodded and acknowledged what was said. Yet, when she gave birth to her son she felt, ‘OMG, my life will never be the same again!’ It was not that she hadn’t heard her friends advice, it was that she didn’t ‘get’ what they were saying as she had no frame of reference for parenting. I thought this was such a great comparison for moving to self-management. I have so many conversations with people before they join MM about how they will feel about not having a boss, being responsible for their own performance, and being responsible for their connections with the team. And yet six months in most people say ‘now I get it!’.
So, therein lies the challenge for those of us working in a self-managing way. How do we help people ‘get it’ before they join. And how can those people shifting from a managed organisation to a self-managing organisation be prepared for there to be a big shift in personnel, and often a period when there are some people are very unhappy? It might sound like a great concept when you talk to your friends socially, but the reality of self-management is that it challenges many of the fundamental paradigms people have about work, like control and taking responsibility for individual performance. For those people who are willing to step up and take responsibility for themselves self-managing is transformational, but it doesn’t suit everyone.
Self-management enables everyone in an organisation to be powerful but, as Spiderman once said, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’