self-organizing organization

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Wheatley's Views on self-organizing systems (Wheatley, 2005, pp 36-44) --
Wheatley's views on self-organization are from a systemic perspective. For a processes perspective from Stacey, see self-organization.

Three conditions of self-organizing organizations --
""If complex systems emerge from simple initial conditions, then human organizations similarly can be rooted in simplicity.""

Organizations have many forms, but emerge from fundamentally similar conditions. A self gets organized. A world of shared meaning develops. Networks of relationships take form. Information is noticed, interpreted, transformed. From these simple dynamics emerge widely different expressions of organization.

Three primary domains of essential conditions making up an organization --

  • Identity - the sense-making capacity of the organization -- Identity is the organization's sense of self, the touch point for all decisions and the collective organization knowledge of who it is. This sense of self, i.e. identity, includes vision, mission, values, and plus factors related to the path the organization is on. This worldview includes interpretations of its history, present decisions and activities, and its sense of the future.
  • Information - the medium of the organization -- Information is the nutrient of self-organization. An organization that eschews power and status to impose order for self-organizing principles to create order, information becomes the medium of the organization. Only when information belongs to everyone can people organize rapidly and effectively around shifts in customers, competitors, and environments. People need access to information that no one could predict they would want to know.
  • Relationships - the pathways of organization -- Relationships between the members of the organization creates and transforms information, the organization's identity expands to include more stakeholders, and the organization becomes wiser. The more access people have to one another, the more possibilities there are. Seeking to achieve equilibrium though rigid organization charts stifle an organization's ability to develop.

Dynamics of self organization --
New relationships connect more and more of the system, creating information that affects the organization's identity. As information circulates freely, it creates new business and propels people into new relationships. As the organization responds to new information and new relationships, its identity becomes clearer at the same time that it changes.

Leadership in self-organizing organizations --
The challenge for leaders is how to create the conditions that support self-organization. The path of self-organization cannot be known ahead of time. There are no prescribed stages or models. Therefore, leaders begin with intentions, not action plans. Leaders also must have confidence in the organization's intelligence to organize in ways beneficial to the organization's future. Not only do leaders have to let go and watch as employees figure out their solutions, but they also have to shore up their self-confidence and encourage them to do more.