Is Self-Management Real? ““ Contribyte”™s Own Experiences with Self-Management

8 Sep 2017

Is Self-Management Real? ““ Contribyte”™s Own Experiences with Self-Management

Sep 8, 2017

In future-forward companies, self-management has already been a topic of discussion for a long time. According to theory, people gravitate towards doing the things in which they can best produce value for their organization. We here at Contribyte decided to practice what we preach and create our latest organizational structure in a completely self-managed way.

As our operations grow, we need the structure particularly for the development of our operations. We created four vertical and four horizontal teams. The team structures were created to serve as restrictions for self-management.

Vertical teams:

  • Enabling sales
  • Satisfaction of current customers
  • Generation of new interest
  • Development of personal happiness and competence

Horizontal teams:

  • Product management
  • Management of the product and service organization
  • Product and service development teams
  • Tools that support product development

Thus, these teams reflect our development needs. Some are related to the development of operations and some to the development of customer value delivery.

Self-Management Exercise

Unlike most other organizations, we did not appoint anyone to the teams in advance but let the employees organize themselves into teams. Everyone had to choose one vertical and one horizontal team to join. No restrictions or recommendations were provided in connection with the exercise.

The teams were not provided with operational methods or models, either. Instead, each team was allowed to create their operational methods completely on their own. The only limit was the time limit, according to which the teams had to produce the first plan for their own operations in the course of approximately 1.5 months.

It was quite surprising to see how difficult self-management seemed for many.

It was quite surprising to see how difficult self-management seemed for many.

Experiences in Self-Management ““ the Difficulty of Choosing

Compared to other organizations, we probably have one of the most naturally self-managing group of employees there is. Each person is used to taking responsibility for their own work and, in any case, everybody works and plans their work very independently.

So it was quite surprising to see how difficult self-management seemed for many. Many employees found choosing a team difficult and asked if I, as a supervisor, could decide which teams they should belong to. I did not, however, agree to that, as I wanted the exercise to be conducted in as self-managed a way as possible.

Experiences in Self-Management ““ the Challenges of Organization

The second challenge was to start the operations. Some of the teams started their operations naturally when somebody just decided to roll up their sleeves and turn ideas into action. Others just didn”™t seem to be able to start their operations no matter what. Of course personal schedules, and the fact that we do not usually work on the same premises, but at different locations, added their own challenges.

It is clear that in order to work, a self-managing team requires one or more persons to take on the responsibility of pushing the team forward. It is difficult to see how teams in which no one usually shows self-initiative could muster up enough enthusiasm to start to take things forward on their own. Particularly so in connection with part-time teams whose members also have tasks outside the team.

Experiences in Self-Management ““ the Big Picture

The teams were allowed to start their operations very independently. The teams were not provided with any objectives or instructions on how they should develop their area of responsibility. The only guidelines for the development work were Contribyte”™s vision and the joint discussions.

What is noteworthy at the moment is that the work of the teams has started well, even though the teams clearly need time to organize themselves. It would be wrong to say that a silo mentality prevails in the teams, although no cross-team development work has yet been performed. I do believe, however, that these cross-team development projects will be created as soon as the teams have managed to develop their own operations.

Tips for Organizations Introducing Self-Management

Here are three tips for organizations that have the courage to allow as much room for self-management as Contribyte.

Three tips for organizations that have the courage to provide room for self-management.

  1. Let self-management occur naturally. At first there will be disorder, but interfering too early will destroy the entire idea of self-management.
  2. Set boundaries that are as clear as possible for self-management. So-called Teal organizations, where everybody finds their place on their own, do not, and will never, exist. The clearer the boundaries set for self-management, the more smoothly it will happen.
  3. Provide some kind of time limit or control cycle for self-management within which each self-managing team can synchronize their operation with the other teams and participants. This will create a suitable amount of peer pressure to take matters forward.

The Most Significant Lessons on Self-Management so Far

For the CEO, self-management means letting go of the reins. You just have to believe and trust in the entire organization, that the employees wish to take the operations forward, and that the company vision has been communicated clearly enough for everybody to know what they should be aiming for. As an experience, this experiment has been somewhat distressing, but, at the same time, also surprisingly rewarding.

It is the lack of control that makes it distressing. No one likes uncertainty, and a great deal of uncertainty is connected with self-management. What makes it rewarding, then, is noticing that a team has truly gained momentum and become more than the sum of its parts. You can really get the most out of individuals and teams by trusting them and allowing them to take responsibility for taking things forward and developing their own competence.

We also utilize self-management for other kinds of things, as well. We all have our own credit cards. Each of us also organizes our own work, and we emphasize self-management throughout our entire operation. So this was not completely new to us, but it was, nevertheless, a new kind of experiment.

Why, Then, Did We Embark on This Exercise? Insights for a Future of Product Development Organization.

For years now, we have discussed the Future of Product Development. It is a concept that we think about almost every day. One of the hottest topics concerning future organizational models is precisely self-management. Organizations such as Valve, Buurtzorg, Morning Star, and Sun Hydraulics have been, for quite some time now, in the spotlight due to their self-managing nature, and the compatibility of their operational models with different environments has been mulled over in many forums.

We realized that in order for us to be able to help future organizations to improve themselves, we needed to test the operational methods of future organizations to understand them better. As has been stated in connection with agile models, the best way to learn is to try something in order to understand it better.

I am sure that this experiment will improve our organization not only due to the ideas of the development teams, but also because we have learned more about the operational models themselves. We will continue our educational journey and certainly write more about the exercise.

Henri Hämäläinen

Henri Hämäläinen

CEO, Consultant


Tuotepäällikkö aloitti kirjoittamisen jo 2011, josta myös löydät vanhimman  kirjoitukset. Blogi käsittelee laajasti tuotejohtamisen ja -kehityksen aiheita. Myös vieraskirjoitukset ovat tervetulleita.

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