Self-organisation and reduction of hierarchies go hand in hand right now through German companies. Unfortunately, however, self-organisation too often results in self-reliance in practice. This leads to frustration among employees and managers. We talk to Anne Sendatzki, Senior Consultant at mgm consulting partners GmbH about the effects this has on the organisation and the management work.

Listen to our mgm podcast episode #02 or read the written interview below.

Editor: Today we would like to talk about the topic of self-organization in new organizational structures and cooperation models. "Self-organisation" and "reduction of hierarchies" currently seem to be very popular in companies. How do you explain that?

Anne Sendatzki: Actually, it's quite easy to explain. There are two points. First, hierarchies are often very cumbersome and lengthy. Decisions take a long time. One would like to shorten this and increase the adaptability and flexibility of organizations. The second point is cost savings. The more managers I have to entertain somehow, the more expensive my organization becomes.

Editor: What you just described certainly has far-reaching effects on the organization, doesn't it? Can you describe these once?

Anne Sendatzki: If companies are dissatisfied with the management span, the management levels or the structure, many want to introduce self-organization in order to solve this and use very different concepts and approaches. There is, for example, sociocracy or hollocracy. This describes new ways of thinking about cooperation. But what is often lost in the good-natured actionism is that both managers and employees have naturally become accustomed to these old forms of cooperation over years and decades, if not even over generations. Actually, both managers and employees need to be completely re-socialized. Imagine a young person between the ages of 16 and 18 coming to the company and doing an apprenticeship. The person absorbs information quasi with his mother's milk: How do you behave in meetings there? Are there different cultures? How is communication carried on? Do I share communication or do I rather cling to the fact that knowledge is power? This is what I experience in many companies in which I work when self-organisation is introduced. There is no awareness at all that one cannot initiate self-organization by means of "plug & play". You really have to create an awareness of the changes that come with it. These are the big effects on the organization.

Editor: You're talking about creating awareness. On the one hand we have the employees and on the other the managers. Then this awareness must certainly first be created among managers, because this has a very strong effect on management work. What changes are managers facing and how can they best deal with the changes?

Anne Sendatzki: In the first step, managers must consider what they actually want to hand over to the self-organization of the teams. This has a lot to do with the way I see myself as a manager. When I think that as a manager I was given the cradle of leadership and that I also walk around with this attitude, then of course I immediately block the topic of self-organization. First of all, as a manager and as a group of managers, I have to become aware of what we want, what attitude we have, how we understand leadership and how we also understand our role on the way to self-organization. This is actually always the first pillar you have to think about before any team can organise anything on its own. It all sounds terribly complicated and a lot, but there are a lot of tools in organizational development that give you a quick overview of what you really want and what you don't want. There is one point I would like to make and add at this point: the less responsibility I place in the workforce, the narrower the scope for self-organization.

The less responsibility I place on the staff, the narrower the scope for self-organization.

In other words, the less own structures and ideas I give to the employees. And that is unfortunately a bias that prevails in many minds. Employees are supposed to do a lot, but they are not actually given the responsibility and the means to do it. And the first step in this process is for the managers to dissolve this in their own company. Here is my observation that in many cases it also has a lot to do with one's own ego. One should first look at oneself and ask oneself: 'What triggers me and when does my ego start? That's a big challenge.

Editor: In order to better understand this, we should perhaps first define three basic terms, which are often used in this context. These are "self-management", "self-reliance" and "self-organization". These are three very different things that can easily be confused. Perhaps you can give us a brief overview of how to understand them and how to define them exactly.

Anne Sendatzki: The most common confusion between "self-organization" and "self-control" is colloquial. One often says that one organizes oneself, but this means that one steers oneself. What does self-control mean? I look at how my resources can best meet the requirements and tasks I have. But that's not self-organization. As I understand self-organization and others, this means creating a new framework of structures, principles and a common understanding of values in which management tasks are taken over by the employees. For example, in a production site this could be the shift schedule. In the past, the shift leader or team leader was responsible for creating the shift plan, but this would now be handed over to the employees. This requires certain structures and decision-making forms. That's self-organization then. Self-reliance is a bit exaggerated when managers delegate tasks, leadership and responsibility to employees, but actually don't care at all how the employees actually feel about it. It's like sitting on a rubber dinghy in the icy Pacific. Only without rudder.

It's like sitting on a rubber dinghy in the icy Pacific. Only without rudder.

Editing: If you want to make a sensible transition to more self-organization, what is the best way to do it, what does it take and how do you have to prepare your employees for it?

Anne Sendatzki: In principle, this should be done gradually. Actually, you have to keep four to five steps. I have just described the first step in a little more detail. The first step is: "As a manager, what do I want to hand over responsibility for?" The second step is: "Do my employees even want to take on this responsibility?" If not, as we were already at the beginning of our conversation, the question arises: "How are they socialized, what corporate culture do I have and what do I have to solve in terms of employee blockages if they don't want to assume responsibility? The third step is that I have to enable them to do it! I must give them all the means and all the possibilities in their hands, including budget responsibility, for example, if they want to make decisions. The fourth step is that once they know the tasks and the means, they have to try them out first and also have the opportunity to grow and learn from the tasks themselves. And then only in the fifth step can I really optimize things. You need a lot of patience, because in this process many things will appear that you didn't foresee at the beginning, because they just float in the undergrowth of the company and then pop to the surface. In order to do this successfully, you need the right attitude. This is not a linear process, but rather a crawling through the jungle.

Editor: What successes can companies expect in the long term if they develop towards more self-organization on the part of their employees?

Anne Sendatzki: A higher adaptability to market conditions, because the employees know best themselves what the customer wants and what is successful or not and do not need the detour via any hierarchical decision paths. One has motivated employees who also see the sense behind their tasks much more strongly. And the third point is that you have managers who can really concentrate on leadership tasks. Basically, you have a more effective and efficient organization.

Editor: That sounds like it, so it would be something every company needs. Thank you very much for this brief insight into the topic of self-organization. If we have made you curious, just contact us at info@mgm-cp.com. There we will be happy to answer any further questions you may have.