Kanayama Consulting

Transforming organizational life through trust

How I Came to Believe in Self Management

I have traveled a journey in my 14 years of organization development work in the US social sector. When I started, I was acting on my desire to help and guide nonprofit organizations be more effective in achieving their missions. I relied on my analytical brain power and ability to listen, observe and discern patterns. I had no attachment to particular consulting methodologies, and learned anything that helps me serve my clients. This combination seemed to produce results. I yearn to guide clients make transformative shifts to effect community change that mattered.

My quest began to inform my approaches - more collaborative and less directive, more seeing interdependence and less separating in silos, more manifesting clients' strengths and less focus on incremental problem fixes. Then I got something - what keeps many organizations from realizing their potential may not be their lack of strategies or resources. Even with great people on board, they may struggle to use what they have, to say nothing of changing communities. I observed two main things that prevent necessary changes from happening:

  1. The executive's ego prevents them from serving the organization's best interest;
  2. The workers are not allowed to make sense of what is happening for themselves.

Skillful CEOs understand organizations' needs and are able to subsume their egos when necessary. However, is it also possible that the traditional executive role of managing and controlling is a fundamental mismatch to increased complexity, especially as the organization grows? #2 describes the situation common in hierarchical organizations where people who are most knowledgeable about and directly involved in issues aren't allowed to make sense of them, let alone decide what to do. #1 and #2 together demoralize people, the principal problem in today's organizations.

The rule of egos undermine integrity and loses trust, nearly impossible to overcome unless we address their source. How do we do this? Simply encouraging CEOs to be more enlightened leaders will likely get only incremental improvements. I believe that chief executives able to rethink the traditional top-down pyramid benefit from being able to address structural problems by eliminating them. Command and control needs to be replaced with organic trust, based on shared belief in the integrity of the organization. Putting this idea into practice requires at least some level of self management, where management responsibility resides in teams instead of ratcheted up to a separate management personnel. This revelation has shifted my own life mission, from affecting social change through more effective organizations, to serving society by improving organizational life for workers and professionals to enable their contributions.

Fortunately, truly forward-thinking organizations have paved the way by successfully practicing self management. Self management is a mode of operating organizations which hold workers responsible for themselves. Workers in teams handle functions usually given to management or specialized staff and departments.  Examples from around the world show that self management has the potential to unleash human collective power to solve our most intractable problems, which the prevailing hierarchical model has failed to do.  The book about this promise is Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux.

If reading thus far has intrigued you, I invite you to join my journey by continuing to my synopsis of the introduction of Reinventing Organizations. Feel free to print, and use the right column to enter your own notes as you read. My hope is you will enjoy it, and be stimulated enough to engage with me! Thank you for reading.