Self Organisation

Part 1 – The Challenges

Working in a self organised company is like a dream come true for some people. You can spend your days working on what you are passionate about, with a great team of colleagues there to help you along the way and without ever feeling oppressed by a rigid hierarchical system. Many self organised companies also let you manage your own day as you please, so you can start working when you feel like it and stop or take breaks according to what works best for you.

All this happens in mondora, where I work, but this doesn’t mean that the company never faces organisational challenges. On the contrary, many people don’t seem to feel ready for this kind of freedom and independence and long for a more structured guidance system… or a hierarchy!

Communication is Key

Being self organised requires a lot of input from everyone and an excellent level of communication. It is also very important for everyone in the company to be on the same page in regard to what our objectives and goals are, and what is really important. It is not always easy for everyone to grasp why we are self organised and why we are doing the work that we do, but this is a fundamental question that everyone should be able to answer. If we don’t know why we’re doing something, how can we expect to do it well? Or to be able to do it at all? In the same way, if we don’t communicate – and being a software company we have all the tech tools you could dream of to do this – we won’t be able to tackle issues as they arise and before they become too large to manage.

The Value of Trust

Another fundamental aspect of self organisation, which is not so easy for everyone to feel and practice, is trust: in order to work well we have to trust each other, we have to believe that all our colleagues are working to the best of their abilities and helping the company to reach its goals. If we start looking at others in a negative way, believing they are working less than us for example, or that someone is not putting enough effort into solving a problem or completing a task, we can no longer practice trust and we can no longer self organise our work: if every one of us focuses on their own work and simply trusts others to do the same, the whole company moves forwards much more smoothly and projects get completed without any anger and resentment seeping in. Anger and resentment noticeably slow progress and create situations that become difficult for a team to manage. In some cases these negative emotions can also spill over to customers, creating complex business issues that are not easily solved.

Putting people in Boxes

When you work in a rigidly structured company it is easy to label people who have different routines from what is “standard” as lazy, unengaged, uninterested. When you’re supposed to be in the office from 9 to 5 and your colleague arrives at 9.30 you immediately assume he doesn’t care or put effort into his work. You feel resentment towards this colleague because you made the effort of being in the office at 9 and he didn’t. The fact that this colleague may produce more valuable work in his shorter day than you do gets completely overlooked. The really important aspect of work is stamped out and overshadowed by a strict rule of having to be in the office at 9 am. In mondora we sometimes see this happening with colleagues who choose to start their day at 10 am, colleagues who prefer working late in the evening rather than in the day, or colleagues who choose to work some days from a different location. Mondora allows everyone to work when and where they please, as long as they produce something valuable and are available for colleagues and customers when needed. However, we sometimes see that the most flexible, or “non-standard” approaches to work get looked down on by people who prefer to follow a traditional 9 to 5 structure and this makes living the principles of self-organisation and flexibility that little bit more difficult for those people who embrace and believe in them the most.

The Soldiers who Resisted Change

When you enter a self organised company with a flat structure, like mondora, you immediately receive guidance as to how the company works and what is expected from you. In mondora we do this through a handy employee handbook that is available for anyone to read online, even before joining the company. In this way a new colleague knows exactly what kind of company he or she is joining and what responsibilities and tasks are waiting in the new job. The situation is slightly more complex for people who have been in the company for a long time, since before it evolved into a flat structured and self organised entity. These people experience the organisational changes happening whether they are ready for them or not and they can sometimes find it hard to adapt to new practices and situation. In some cases, some people may resist change and fight against it, because it is something new and different. Coming out of one’s comfort zone is never easy and requires a lot of hard work that not everyone is willing to undergo, especially when the change is not fully understood or embraced. Mondora is a company that changes and evolves constantly and this is difficult for some colleagues to accept. As well as the challenge of being able to change, improve and adapt to new situations, the whole company also faces the challenge of helping those who resist change the most to see things from a different perspective and try to understand the reasons behind these changes.

Being Kind or Being Lazy

Yet another challenge faced by people in mondora is that of practicing kindness towards others. In a self-organised company you manage your own workload and you don’t have anyone telling you what to do or when to hand it in by. Your team has a schedule and discusses with the customer what will be delivered at the end of each two week sprint, but you are a part of this decisional process and there is no one breathing down your neck or screaming at you to hand in your work faster or do more than what has been set. As in all aspects of life, it often happens that a person needs a hand from someone else in order to complete a task well: we all have strengths and skills that others are lacking and we have to share these if we truly want to work together and see our company succeed. The challenge here is that of prioritising your own tasks so that you are available to help a colleague that needs a hand. Being kind and helping others complete their tasks is a natural thing in life. However many traditional companies squash kindness and substitute it with competition: if I’m very good at something I’ll keep it for myself so I might get a promotion sooner than my colleagues. In a flat structured and self organised company this sometimes sadly translates into viewing kind people, those who make time to help others, as lazy or underworked: if you have time to help colleagues on their tasks, it means that you haven’t taken on enough tasks for yourself. Perhaps everyone should learn from these kinder colleagues, who are probably not underworked but just more efficient at time management and understanding which tasks are essential and which can wait.

What are the challenges of your organisation and how do you overcome them?

In Part 2 of this article I will be discussing the company’s evolution process and how the various challenges of self organisation can be overcome. See you there!

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