Self-organization and leadership: 3 important tips for leaders

The evolution of work towards more self-organization has become even clearer over the past year. A concept that is widely adopted within software development has now also become more common in other areas of business. The reasons for this evolution are clear: When teams are empowered to decide on more elements, they are better equipped to handle complex, unpredictable situations in a fast-changing environment.

Self-organization has had many positive effects on our work satisfaction. The fact that we are more empowered to decide how to perform our work, given that we are aligned with our employer’s goals, vision, and values, increases work satisfaction and fulfillment. This approach to leadership contrasts with a traditional managerial hierarchy, in which employees report upward and receive instructions from the hierarchy. 

Although there are different levels of self-organization — and the level of self-organization will ultimately depend on your team’s preference — in this article, I am referring to the traditional form in which the team has responsibility for managing and executing the work, but setting the direction and forming the team are done by others. 

Leading self-organizing teams emphasizes a leader’s ability to motivate and coach teams and individuals, without giving too many answers and putting in too many constraints. In this article, I wanted to share my three most important tips when leading self-organizing teams. 

  1. Team empowerment
    Your primary task as a leader of a self-organizing team is to deliver clear, aligned, and inspiring direction and to serve the team. Any direction you give to the team won’t outline everyone’s tasks for the next half-year – that’s up to them. Your task as a leader is to remove any constraints and obstacles that are in the way of your objective.
  2. Trust in the team
    A team thrives when its freedom exceeds somewhat its current maturity. This gives team members the possibility to grow and take on more responsibility. Do not underestimate the amount of time that good leadership of a self-organizing team takes. If you have responsibility for both people and other things, the people have to come first.
  3. Individuals and team culture
    The leader has a huge influence on a team’s behavior, values, and rules, both written and unwritten. When it comes to culture, your actions and how you lead have to be aligned with what you want the culture to look like. Get to know the individuals in the team, spend time on active listening, and get good at asking open-ended questions. Spend an equal amount of time with everyone, and do not forget the high-performers.

With Humbol, we want to give leaders more time for better leadership by increasing proactivity and equality in our leadership practices. Are you interested in finding out how we could support your organization? Book a meeting with me to discuss more.