In many companies, the task of managing the distribution of employees’ work is in the hands of a few decision-makers. There are also many other models that can lead to an effective way of working for the workforce. But to what extent can employees really live out self-organization and to what extent should they be granted their own freedom of choice?

What does self-organization mean in the first place?

While in rigidly hierarchical companies the scepter of leadership is usually clearly transferred to one or a few actors, self-organized companies pursue a different path. This is where leadership and its individual sub-areas are distributed according to competences, abilities and strengths, which employees themselves are able to make decisions and act upon. Nevertheless, firm structures and processes remain in place in order to enable a fixed and orderly framework around self-organization. Within this framework, the workforce can move freely and focus on current problem solutions without having to constantly consult with a supervisor. In this way, the leadership under self-organization is not oriented towards individual power-carriers, but rather to defined roles.

How does the principle work?

As mentioned earlier, self-organization in companies means that power and leadership are distributed across roles throughout the company. However, the roles with their individual responsibilities are not fixed, but can change among the workforce.

This method is usually used in a circular organization. This means that employees organize themselves as a kind of teams in circles, while still keeping the individual circles together as an overall concept. This promotes internal communication and exchange. In addition, the work in the individual circles and areas remains transparent and comprehensible for each individual employee. In addition, larger circles can be divided into smaller organizations as needed, so that structure and dependencies are permanently preserved.

Within the individual circles, the teams can finally decide for themselves how they want to work and who takes over which activities. Autonomously, the workforce independently determines responsibilities, responsibilities and decision-makers.

Nevertheless, the management of the company has the possibility to set firm upper goals. However, it is ultimately up to the employees themselves to achieve these and break down into smaller milestones.

What is the significance of self-organization?

While self-organization has long been branded only as a “trend,” the tide has now turned. More and more companies are recognizing that self-organization of employees can provide a real competitive advantage. Finally, in the event of constantly changing market conditions, it is important to be able to adapt quickly and efficiently to new events. However, this can only be achieved if sub-processes are kept as short and flexible as possible.

However, this is often not possible in companies with rigid hierarchical structures. Constant consultation, obtaining permits and confirming decisions often takes far too long. As a result, important time is often given away.

The model of self-organization, however, aims to set up the employee in such a way that he or she has responsibility, decisions and measures within his prescribed framework. In this way, it can react independently and efficiently to changes.

What is the key to effectiveness?

In addition to many different agile measures, an effective and efficient self-organization of the workforce depends above all on one aspect. The possibility of being able to make decisions yourself.

Because if you tell the individual employee exactly what task he has to do and when and when, and if he has to obtain the consent of the manager for each sub-process, he cannot realize a self-organized work. Instead, situations such as the following graphic occur:

Employees must therefore be able to rely on the confidence to be able to make their own decisions. In the end, however, this does not only promote self-organization. At the same time, the workforce often feels more respected, recognized and perceived. This often results in higher job satisfaction. In the end, valued employees are usually willing to invest more input and effort in their services and thus achieve significantly better results and a more successful performance in the long term.

Tip: Read my book: SMEs in digital transformation at Springer Gabler orbook me for a lecture.

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.