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5 Simple Steps To Self-Management

Joost Minnaar
Written by Joost Minnaar June 23, 2018

Recently, I was inspired by Jos de Blok of Buurtzorg. He gave an awesome keynote about growing a business to hundreds of self-managed teams, with almost no overhead. One key takeaway from his talk was to keep it simple.

But, there is a catch. Keeping it simple and getting there requires different disciplines. Buurtzorg, for example, built on this idea from the ground up by making things simple for the local, self-managed teams: clear pricing structure, almost no procedures, and leaving all regulatory matters in the hands of headquarters.

I transformed an organization into self-managed teams and would love to share my learning. Follow these steps and you’ll make self-management easy again:

1. One single (evolutionary) purpose

It all comes back to the purpose of the organization. This is the one reason why the organization exists. Everyone can shout it out, even if you wake them up in the middle of the night. It’s not a fancy-but-hollow mission statement, but a clear purpose: one that every employee feels attracted to.

The right purpose guides all decision-making, new initiatives, and strategies. A well-chosen purpose makes every decision child’s play. You only have to focus on what is the added value is toward the purpose. Hey, that sounds like a great quote:

A well-chosen organizations purpose makes every decision child’s play. You only have to find out what is the added value towards the purpose.
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There is only one possible purpose at an organization level. But every team, tribe, task force, or initiative should also have a purpose. And it must add value to the organization’s ultimate purpose.

Do not continue with this article

If the purpose of your organization is not yet at the level described above, stop! If so, do not continue until everyone, even the canteen ladies, can dream of the purpose.

With purpose in mind, then take the following steps.

2. A culture of trust

How awesome would your organization be if you trusted everybody, yes everybody? A lot of managers reading this probably think they do. But do you really trust that everybody is there for that purpose and for him/herself? Trust that everybody has the right intentions. And trust that everybody wants to make the best possible decisions.

Why hire anyone you don’t trust in the first place?
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Trust is the foundation of the organization. You collaborate based on trust. Google did a well-known research on what their most successful teams had in common. Trust (and psychological safety) were at the top. So how do you create a culture of trust? You start by treating everyone as an adult and removing (all) control mechanisms.

3. Radical transparency

But, in trusting everybody, you are not there yet. You also have to be transparent, for several reasons. The most important is that it makes life easier. You never have to hide information from your colleagues again. And, by being radically transparent, you really show employees you trust them with all the information.

Of course, there may be legal reasons why you are not allowed to share some information. But other than this, there is no reason not to.

When you trust all employees, you don’t need different versions of the same truth. Commonly, lots of hours are used to make different versions of information for different parts of the organization. Share by default, for example, everyone’s calendar, and also company performance reports. Then you never have to worry about information being in the wrong hands. There are none!

And be transparent with salaries. Why is it so hard to share salaries? Because there is a chance that someone earns a lot more or less than you do. When it’s open, these gaps will decrease, and salaries will become fairer for everyone. Here’s a great TED talk by David Burkus about open salaries:

4. Clear boundaries

Simplicity creates clarity. What does the organization look like? How do you collaborate? What do we expect? Call it whatever you want—boundaries, rules of engagement or organizational systems. Without any of those, it’s pretty hard to ‘manage yourself’.

So it’s time to bring clarity to your company. It can be as easy as visualizing your organization or just describing your definition of the structure that is in place. Or, as Incentro did, create boundaries for every office. When an office grows bigger than 60 employees, they split up into two autonomous offices. Each office is completely responsible for their P&L. And they have only 2 boundaries to complete autonomy: the happiness score and profit margin.

More clarity brings more happiness, too. Here’s a great video about a ‘playground study’. It’s what happens when you have playgrounds with or without fences. It illustrates perfectly what I mean by clear boundaries:

5. Never stop experimenting!

You cannot stop learning. Ever. So keep learning to make your company simpler, your employees better, and being more purpose-driven. Learn from employees, learn from your competitors, and learn by doing. Do it by experimenting. Fail or win and still learn. Do this as a continuous loop.

5 Simple Steps To Self-Management
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Don’t do everything you learned in this article at once. Do it the agile way: in iterations. Identify the obstacles. Understand them. Fix them!

Written by Joost Minnaar
Joost Minnaar
Co-founder Corporate Rebels. My daily focus is on research, writing, and anything else related to making work more fun.
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