What does leadership look like in a company with no bosses? How do you develop a culture that allows self-managing organisations to thrive? What mindset and relational shifts are required? In this book, the authors share stories and insights from nearly twenty years of coaching teams and organisations to become self-managing. Rather than looking at complicated self-management frameworks and models, these pages reveal a perspective of organisational transformation based on the simple but powerful premise of facilitating different kinds of dialogues.
Karin Tenelius is a management consultant and co-founder of Tuff Leadership Training which provides skill training for managers to succeed if they want to lead in a more involving way. She also works with employee-driven businesses.
By Lisa Gill
When my colleague and co-author, Karin Tenelius, first began talking at conferences back in the nineties about her experiences of transforming companies into 'bottom-up' organisations without managers, she was met with total scepticism, amusement and even outrage. So much so that she eventually gave up and vowed not to speak publicly about this topic until Sweden, and the world, was ready. At the time of writing this book, things have certainly shifted. We still have a long way to go, of course, but more and more people are practicing in, and researching and writing about, self-managing organisations. More evidence is emerging about the benefits of working in decentralised ways: agility, responsiveness, rehumanising workplaces, collective intelligence, enhanced responsibility, exceptional service - the list goes on. The case no longer needs to be made for reinventing our management models.
For Karin and me, the motivation for contributing to the field of self-managing organisations is twofold. Firstly, we want to help create more human workplaces. Organisations where people can draw on their full intelligence, creativity, and responsibility to do great work together and grow as individuals. Secondly, research and theory is one thing, but practice is something else entirely. The stories in this book are born out of experimentation, trial and error, and lots of practice. We want to embolden others to do the same.
How this book began
Karin and I met in January 2016 in Cascais, Portugal. We, along with nine other strangers, had been called there by a passionate Spanish woman called Dunia Reverter to explore the idea of setting up a company that would buy and transform other companies. A common thread for many of us was an enthusiasm for the book Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laloux, which had been published two years earlier. Dunia had explained to me on Skype: 'If we wait for the CEOs and founders to become 'enlightened', it's gonna take forever! We need to buy and transform companies! That's how we accelerate this paradigm shift! So, I'm inviting a bunch of people to my house in Cascais to explore this. Are you in?' Of course I said yes.
Karin and Dunia had been connected by Jos de Blok, the founder of a large self-managing nursing organisation in the Netherlands called Buurtzorg, after Dunia had shared her plan with him at a conference he was speaking at. 'You want to buy and transform companies? You need to talk to Karin Tenelius,' he told her, 'we met the other day and she's been doing exactly that as far back as the nineties!'
I'm profoundly grateful to Dunia for enabling Karin and I to meet. It was in Cascais that I first heard some of Karin's stories about organisations she had transformed. At the time, I had been focusing on changing the structures and processes in organisations in my coaching and consulting work, and was convinced that once you did this, everything else would follow. But Karin had not transformed these organisations by changing the machinery of them, she had done it in an entirely human way - through dialogues. She spoke of giving away the authority to the team, coaching people to take full responsibility for the business, and supporting them to have radically honest conversations. It struck me, then, that we need to go beyond structures and processes to what Otto Scharmer calls our blind spot - the place from which we're operating. Our worldview, our mindset, our way of being, how we relate to each other. All of these things are at the heart of the transformation that needs to happen in each of us if we want our organisations to really shift. It's these stories that Karin and I wanted to share. She had been waiting for the right time to share them and the right person to help her tell them.
We've been writing this book together over the course of nearly three years, during which time I've become part of the team at Tuff Leadership Training, the company Karin cofounded to train managers in more traditionally structured companies the very skills she had discovered were so powerful in a self-managing organisation - how to unleash the potential in others through coaching, adult-to-adult dialogues.
In recent years, more and more companies have begun to partner with Tuff to guide them on their journey to becoming a self-managing organisation. What used to be a radical idea met with scepticism, even in 'progressive' Sweden, is now becoming more widely understood as a way to create organisations that aremuchmore adaptive and resilient in contexts of complexity. We believe self-managing organisations, those that radically decentralise authority, tap into the full potential of capable adults and generate totally new levels of cooperation, communication, responsibility, commitment and creativity.
But self-management is hard!
We have so many conversations with people who are committed to another way of working but are struggling with meaty challenges like: How can we create a culture of accountability in a self-managing organisation? What does leadership look like in a company where there are no bosses? How do we make decisions effectively? How do we foster a culture that will allow our self-managing organisation to thrive? What do self-set salaries look like? How do we have tough conversations? Where do we start? What mindset shift is required?
In this book we'll share our thoughts and experiences regarding these questions, although we make no claims of having all the answers. There is no one right way to do this. There are some common principles and practices that are useful, but we believe every organisation needs to find their own way.
The purpose of this book
The purpose of this book is to support people in putting self-managing organisations and teams into practice. Karin has spent nearly twenty years experimenting and developing an approach to self-managing teams based on training people in a coaching leadership style and building their capacity to communicate at a deeper level to foster true collaboration.
However, we've consciously chosen not to write a handbook for three reasons; (1) every organisation is different and therefore there is no linear process to teach, (2) mindset and skills are almost impossible to learn by reading, it requires experiencing, and (3) we want to encourage readers to take what they find useful and then find their own way of transforming or developing their teams.
At the core of this book are stories about a number of small Swedish companies across different sectors that Karin helped transform, both as an owner and as a consultant or interim CEO. In these stories are insights and lessons we want to share, coupled with some of the ground principles that underpin them. We will share the beautiful triumphs Karin and these teams experienced, as well as the painful failures and lessons learned.
Changing systems is not enough
Our biggest motivation for writing this book is that we would like to contribute to this field by offering a perspective that is grounded not in structures and processes, but in ways of being and mindset. We find there is less written and shared about the latter, and yet if we really want to shift our organisations, we have to go deeper. As Simon Mont wrote in his article 'Autopsy of a Failed Holacracy: Lessons in Justice, Equity, and Self-Management' for the Nonprofit Quarterly:
Shifting into a new formal structure is in many ways the easy part, because it's the most visible - the easiest to put our hands on and tinker with. The real work comes when we have to relearn how to relate on personal and interpersonal levels and look at the project of self-governance in the context of our full human lives.
Towards the end of writing this book, I interviewed the international Nonviolent Communication teacher and author Miki Kashtan for our podcast, Leadermorphosis, and she poignantly shared the three places shifts need to occur in order for organisational self-management to thrive. First, those who have (or have had) structural power (for instance, former managers) need to learn how to distribute it and unlearn their 'top-down' tendencies towards others. Second, those who didn't or don't have structural power need to learn how to step into their own leadership, to ask for what they need, to take the initiative to identify challenges and opportunities - which in some ways is much harder because it incurs more of an interpersonal risk, especially if those mentioned in the first shift aren't doing so well. And finally, we need to reinvent our structures and systems - otherwise we just inherit the old ones.
We hope that this book can contribute towards a deeper understanding of the first two shifts Miki mentions, the ones that concern our way of relating to each other as human beings. At the core of the approach Karin has developed over the years to support organisations to become self-managing are three pillars: 1) a coaching leadership mindset and way of being, 2) a focus on working climate, and 3) a culture of mandate and involvement. All of these are fostered through new kinds of facilitated dialogues that build human capacities for working together in radically different ways.
Whether you are starting from scratch, using or customising a pre-designed self-management system like Holacracy or Sociocracy, or have home-grown your own approach to...