Blog
Emmanuellle Abensur
January 11, 2024
13
min read
Management & Governance

What is self-management?

Organizational chart of a company that practices self-management and empowers employees to make decisions and be autonomous

Netflix, Spotify, Buurtzorg, Zappos, Haier. These companies all have something in common: they practice what we call “self-management”, i.e. a governance model that believes in autonomous teams, distributed authority and a decentralized structure. If you’re not familiar with self-management yet, you might think this is just a buzzword. But this could not be further from the truth.

Understanding self-management is key for modern organizations that want to empower their employees and boost performance. So, what defines a self-organized team exactly? How is self-management different from traditional management approaches? What are the benefits? And how can you implement it in your own organization? That’s what we’re covering in this article!

Understanding self-management

Definition

In a general setting, self-management (or self-leadership) refers to our ability to manage personal emotions, behaviors and actions in an autonomous manner. In the workplace, this concept goes a bit further, as it extends to how employees manage their tasks and make decisions on their own to achieve their goals.

Self-management in the workplace can thus be defined as a company’s ability to empower its employees and improve their autonomy at work through transparent roles, responsibilities and objectives.

In other words, it’s about “creating the right framework so people can autonomously take decisions, make choices and take initiatives to contribute to the organization’s purpose,” says Edward Ter Horst (Founder of Soople).

Self-management vs traditional management

Now, is there a difference between self-management and traditional management approaches? The answer is yes - and a huge one at that!

In traditional management models, “command and control” is the way to go. Decisions are made by managers, so employees have little to no say about what goes on in the organization. The structure is hierarchical, with different levels of authority (N+1, N+2, N+3…). Communication is top-down, with managers often serving as gatekeepers.

As a consequence, traditional management often leads to:

  • information silos
  • slower decision-making and change management processes
  • reduced employee engagement
  • limited innovation and creativity
  • a disconnection between employees and top management

Self-management models, on the other hand, empower employees to make decisions that are relevant to their role, and hold each other accountable. Those roles may change over time based on the needs of the organization and the professional development of employees. Transparency is a must for this to work, therefore information is freely shared with team members.

Here’s a recap table to help you understand:

Table that illustrates the difference between traditional management and self-management

PS: download our white paper to know more about different leadership styles 👇

Characteristics of a self-managed team

Self-managed teams share certain characteristics that sets them apart from the rest:

  • Freedom and autonomy. This means that teams are not under the authority of anyone. They can express their opinion freely, and take action without asking for a manager’s approval.
  • Distributed decision-making. Any team member can make a decision, either on his own after having considered different points of view, or collaboratively to ensure that everyone on the team is aligned with the decision.
  • Agility. Continuous improvement and adaptability is key for self-managed teams. They reflect on their performance, learn from successes and failures, and always seek new ways to innovate.
  • Transparency. Self-managed teams share information, knowledge and feedback regularly. They know how their goals are linked to the company’s strategy, have a clear idea on who does what and who’s working on which projects.
  • Accountability. Each member is accountable to the team for their contributions and commitments. Peer accountability replaces hierarchical supervision, fostering a sense of responsibility and ownership among team members.

Benefits of self-management

Let’s now dive into what self-management can offer you. If you play your cards right, you can experience tons of benefits, such as:

Also read: [Ebook] How to bring psychological safety to your organization

By removing the layers of bureaucracy, teams are more likely to try new ideas, experiment and train themselves to get better results. This is beneficial both for the organization and the employees, as it helps give more meaning to team members' jobs and boost overall performance.

Implementing self-management

If you plan to implement self-management, you should first ask yourself: is it the right method for you? Is your organization ready for it? And if not, what’s missing? Here are some good practices to help you out.

Getting the basics right

According to our partner Soople, there are 7 key elements you should look into before implementing self-management:

1. Purpose: your reason of being, i.e. the reason behind why you want to achieve your goals. All teams should be committed to it.

2. Values: the rules that describe how you want to work together and treat your stakeholders. Great values are not just words; they must describe how you want people to behave in order to mean something.

3. Strategy: this clarifies what you want to achieve in order to reach your purpose, and priority level of your action. Once this is clear, you can use the OKR (objective and key results) methodology to distribute the strategy throughout the organization.

4. Structure: the way you organize work to create value for your clients. To create this value, you should build a flexible structure that connects all departments together (in opposition with the traditional structure organized in silos).

5. Power and authority: this defines how decisions are taken and who’s accountable for what. To distribute authority accordingly, you must clearly specify the responsibilities and accountabilities of each role. This can be done using the Holaspirit organizational chart, for example.

Mapping roles is a common self-management practice. Here's how it works on Holaspirit organizational chart.
Mapping roles using Holaspirit’s dynamic chart

6. Transparency: it refers to the quality of insights the organization has on how work is progressing. All data should be shared with the company in order for team members to get the information they need to do their job and - if necessary - to ask for help.

7. Trust: for self-management to work, you should - most importantly - be able to rely on your employees. Moreover, they should be aware that a high trust environment means that there’s low tolerance for bad behavior.

▶️  Watch the replay of our webinar with Soople to explore these elements in more detail.

Knowing the different self-management frameworks

Once you’ve clarified all those elements and created the right mindset, you may want to look into the different self-management frameworks that will help you get started. Here are four examples of methodologies you can adopt.

Holacracy

In a holacratic organization, decision-making and authority are distributed throughout self-organized teams rather than centralized in a traditional management hierarchy. The company's activities are divided into work units called circles, among which you can find different roles. Employees are then assigned to different roles depending on their expertise and skills.

Sociocracy

Sociocracy aims to create a psychologically safe environment where all employees can freely express themselves and get involved in the decision-making process. Just like holacracy, sociocracy is structured around circles and focuses on consent-based decision-making. However, it uses different vocabulary and allows for more personalization than holacracy.

Teal organizations

A teal organization refers to a specific stage of organizational development characterized by self-management, wholeness, and an evolutionary purpose, as outlined in Frederic Laloux's book "Reinventing Organizations." Its decentralized structure allows teams to be more autonomous and to take responsibility for their actions. Contrary to holacracy and sociocracy, decisions are not made through consensus, but rather through seeking advice from other team members and experts.

Scrum

Scrum is a framework within the agile methodology used to facilitate team collaboration on complex projects, primarily in software development. It structures work in cycles of work called "sprints," emphasizing iterative progress, accountability, and continuous improvement through roles like the Scrum Master and Product Owner, regular meetings, and artifacts like the product backlog.

Choosing the right tool

To implement a self-management framework, you’ll need to implement the right tool. Good news for you: Holaspirit can help you with that!

Holaspirit is a self-management platform that aims to improve transparency, agility and performance by clarifying roles and processes within the organization. It integrates key features such as:

  • A dynamic organizational chart that helps you understand how the organization is structured, and who does what.
  • An OKR tree that lets you set up objective and key results, and create alignment between your teams’ and organization’s goals.
  • Meeting templates for governance and tactical meetings, to help you stay on track and document your teams’ exchanges.
  • Publications that can be used to document processes and policies, and make them visible to everyone in the organization.
  • A tasks module that allow you to follow your team’s projects and tasks in an efficient manner.
Illustration that illustrates meetings templates on Holaspirit for organizations that want to practice self-management
Discussing the items on the agenda of a tactical meeting on Holaspirit

More than 1000 companies use our solutions to implement different self-management frameworks within their organization. That’s the case of Unic, a digital agency based in Switzerland, Germany and Poland. Some years ago, the company chose our solution to implement holacracy. This helped develop collective intelligence, transparency but also innovation within the organization.

Discover their story in this short video 😉

To conclude

Self-management isn’t just a model you can implement in the blink of an eye. It requires the right people, the right culture, and above all the right mindset. Tools like Holaspirit can help you lay out the foundations and get started on your journey. Schedule a call with our team to get to know our tool and receive the help you need.

Revolutionize your way of working now!