6 Do's and Don'ts When Creating a Self-Managing Organisation

Joost Minnaar
Written by Joost Minnaar December 20, 2016

The process of creating a self-managing organisation has been ongoing since last June. Some things may seem like such a good idea beforehand and turn out so differently in practice. And then other elements work out so much better than expected and show us that we are on the right track. Although we still have a long way to go, I'll share the first lessons or do's and don'ts for creating a self-managing organisation with you here.

Don't start with a pilot

This seems counter intuitive. Most projects start with a pilot to prove that the concept works. However, in a process like this you end up in a hybrid situation in which people who are not actually part of the pilot are waiting around until they can start too. This creates restlessness. I realize now that we started with a pilot mainly in order to convince others. If we had all started at the same time, there might have been even more lessons learned that we could have benefited from at an earlier stage. It would have also meant less delay to the overall process.

When allocating your teams, look at the group dynamics

When allocating the teams, we particularly looked at which customers people had in their portfolios and the knowledge and skills available. However, in order to get a team to function properly and to ensure that people are in their element within a group, the dynamic between people is also important. We might have reserved more time for that at the start.

Accept that some people will leave

Not everyone feels at home within the structure and culture of a self-managing organisation or an agile way of working. So be prepared for some people to leave of their own accord (this example from Zappos is interesting in that regard). In other cases, it soon becomes painfully clear that certain people do not fit into the new structure.

Know that not many systems support this method yet

Giving all teams access to the same systems and information (without paying out a fortune in licences) is a particular challenge. Suppliers still think very much in terms of roles and the associated privileges. When you try to explain what the idea is, you will notice that this way of working is still far from commonplace. It can also be tricky to explain team activities without getting bogged down in time-consuming administrative processes. In order to support our agile methodology, we use Jira, a kind of to-do list across all the teams. It works perfectly.

Don't underestimate the importance that people attach to a role

If you 'rechristen' a CTO Performance as 'Performance Coach' or appoint your Sales Manager as Sales Coach, don't be surprised if they aren't necessarily overjoyed. Employees also appreciate clarity and status, and it is a lot easier to tell someone at a birthday party that you are a Sales Manager with a team of 10 than explaining the role of a Sales Coach who doesn't directly manage anyone.

Implement your vision in detail

A new structure doesn't just mean that you need to establish new frameworks within which people work. Operating rules are actually very top down. We want to formulate them differently. The same goes for our appraisal system and employment contracts. It is not just a question of what we expect of a colleague, but also what he or she can expect of us. That way, the responsibilities on both sides become clear right away and you start from a much more equal relationship.

Over the coming time we will undoubtedly learn many more lessons, which I will of course share with you. I can already say that I am glad we have made a start on this process – because, when are you happy in your work? When you have the freedom to decide on the content of your work; how much you work and when. This model gives you much more scope for that. That's not just good for your employees, but indirectly also for your customers.


Hartger Ruijs is founder and CEO of Computest Group BV. Computest specializes in performance and security testing for (online) applications. Hartger is regularly posting on Computest's transition towards a self-steering organization. These posts will be published on Corporate Rebels' blog to provide followers insights into the ongoing transition.

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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