How To Become A Self-managed Organization


Our organisational change – the whys the hows and the challenges

Over the years I’ve often been called “dad” at work – in jest of course, but the sentiment behind it was genuine. I liked it, it pampered my ego to know that people saw me as the voice of reason, as the person that can decide (even very small) things. I was happy in the knowledge that I was empowering people, protecting them, and that they both trusted me and feared me as the upper authority.

source: Joe Sondow‏ twitter @JoeSondow

Aside from all the ego massaging, I did start to wonder whether the situation was really normal? I began to ask myself whether we work like equal, adult people here and if not, is that something we should address?

This lead me to an evergreen question: do we have staff who need guidance like ‘children’, or do we have adults who need advice and coaching only? (Click to Tweet)

Actually, research shows that if you treat people like the latter or the former, they will behave accordingly in the long run.

Well, after much deliberation, the time has come and we are embarking upon the greatest organisational change in Digital Natives’ 10-year history (and perhaps one of the biggest experimental changes in the history of man – or so it feels!). Can we really be in adult-adult relationships with each other? Can we be ourselves, wholeheartedly, in the workplace and succeed as a business? Can we really do self-managing responsibly?

Note: Below, I summarise from my point of view how things stand now in our organisation. Obviously we talked a lot about these topics, however I don’t see my opinion as the ultimate truth. As you’ll see, we invest in to uncover how the organisation see its own problems and future.

What key drivers have moved us towards self-management?

1) The desire for more creative initiatives and higher quality of work. (Perhaps some totally new ways of working might emerge too?)

The best new initiatives typically come from people who care about the organisation and the environment they work in, whatever role they fulfill in the company. Usually these caring folk are the ones with responsibility, and the ones with responsibility are usually the most proactive.

So, if we give people the responsibility and the opportunity to be proactive, we can theoretically do away with the ‘it’s not my job mentality’ and move forwards in a happy, creative and productive workforce.

Our idea? We will encourage people to make things happen themselves instead of waiting for ‘Dad’ to approve or judge it. From now on, we say just do it to the best of your ability, and ask for advice if you need it. (Click to Tweet)

2) Exponential personal development: self-awareness and fearless-cooperation

We are all guilty of not speaking our mind, through fear of saying it wrong, sounding unprofessional or upsetting people. Sometimes the problem is not giving feedback promptly enough or diluting the message because we are wary of our lack of ‘soft-skill’.

This lack of conflict resolution can become poisonous for a business and hinders both personal and professional development.

Our idea? We will express what we really think and how we feel. Not from our egos but from our deeper inside. When you spend up to 10 hours a day with someone, doesn’t honesty make more sense? (Click to Tweet)

So how did we arrive at this big organisational change?

Leadership, ownership, culture and organisational practices

Thankfully we do have a very strong self-organising mindset:

  • The most important prerequisite is the Founders / CEO mindset: how we see human nature and what we think about the world around us. Leaders should have the strong personal belief that we can operate without strong top-down control and micro-managing. Thankfully this is given in Digital Natives, because of our long personal development and self-reflection journeys, yet, there is always room for improvement.Current leadership and owners (Lucas and I) are committed to making these changes even if it won’t be easy.
  • We work on the legal side to execute an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Program) to encourage the real shareholder and entrepreneurial mindset
  • We act in multiple roles, eg. Developers do HR, Project Managers do Marketing stuff and so on. We don’t really care about job titles but the job has to be done.
  • There is a very strong in-house self-development program that allows us to make extreme horizontal role changing. People can decide how they spend their self-development budget and time.

Let me give you my favourite story. In early 2015 we had to restructure our seating plan in the office – it was a painful process! Some leaders (me included) closed the door of the meeting room, then 1-2 (very exhausting) hours later we came out and stuck the new plan to the wall. Many of us were close to rebelling.

One year on and the seating reshuffle happened again, only this time it was a totally different experience. Some people sensed that we needed to totally restructure our office space. What did they do? They walked around the office, and discussed the needs and barriers of each team.

Then, they made decisions based on their collective intelligence. The quality of outcome was uncomparable with the first re-seating session, since everyone participated and supported the process. Because of this engagement, we made the most optimal decision – optimal for the community and not for the ego-warriors.

You might ask: how do you start to re-design an organisation?

We used Frederic Laloux’s, more than inspiring book of “Reinventing organisation” as the basics (it’s a collection of good practices of the self-managing organisations). This book offers an evolutionary approach to understand the organisation development paradigms:



Here’s some guidance on analysing the various stages of the organisational development.

Using workshops we gathered the team’s thoughts on our current stage of development. We see ourself mainly in a Family model (39%) and as a Self-organised (23%) team, but with some Hierarchical-machinery (24%) and Military (10%) practices, also spiced with a little Wolf-pack (5%) feeling.

Where do we see the future of our organisation?

We’d increase the self-managing part on the expense of the top down structures:

Self-organised (44%) , Family model (42%) , Hierarchical-machinery (11%) , Military (2%) , Wolf-pack (1%)

Also, we were tracking what Digital Natives means for us as an organisation and the key values we share. Here’s a list of the most significant ones:



What can you take home from that:

  • It’s very important to understand where you are and where you want to go with your organisation’s practices. This gives the direction you will need to initiate any changes.
  • The organisation is a mixture of different practices and beliefs: it’s not a homogeneous mass of self-management or military-like entities, but melting together different people with different expectations and mindsets.
  • If you’re transforming an existing organisation, you should not start by adopting a method like Holacracy. Not because these method are bad, but because the organisation has to be prepared and willing to adopt a rigorous playbook like Holacracy. We almost made this mistake, however I’m sure one day we’ll adopt something like this.
  • Hire external facilitators (Tamás Hovanyecz, Melinda Várfi) to help this process. You’ll need someone who has no interest / shareholder role in the organisation, so that you, as a leader can express your thoughts and feelings like anyone else, without having to pay attention to controlling the process. Also, this makes sure everyone’s voice is heard, and not just that of the opinion leaders.
  • Pay attention to personal development. We hired a coach (Emese Király, to help sharpen our self-reflection skills and practices, since this is a key element in accepting the responsibility that comes with self-management.
  • Yes, it’s very hard to transform an existing organisation to self-management, even with a strong self-organising culture like ours. There are many doubts and questions in everyone’s mind.

Our next big challenge will be to get together for a one day retreat to process our tensions and talk about what we really want to do as an organisation. It’s really important not to execute what I believe personally as the CEO, but what we believe as a company.

Have you ever experienced an organisational change? Do you have any ideas or advice on self-management? Let us know – we appreciate your contribution!


ShareShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on RedditEmail this to someone

Leave a Reply