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

What does self-organization actually mean?

While in rigidly hierarchical companies the scepter of leadership is usually clearly assigned to one or a few actors, self-organized companies follow a different path. Because here leadership and its individual sub-areas are distributed according to competencies, skills and strengths so that employees are able to make decisions themselves and act accordingly. Nevertheless, fixed 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 superior. In this way, the leadership under the self-organization is not based on individual power holders, but rather on defined roles.

How does the principle work?

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

Most of the time, this method is used in a district organization. This means that employees organize themselves as a kind of teams in circles, whereby the individual circles still remain linked to one another 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 groups can be divided into smaller organizations as required, so that structure and dependencies are permanently retained.

Within the individual circles, the teams can ultimately decide for themselves how they want to work and who takes on which activities. In this way, the employees independently determine responsibilities, areas of responsibility and decision-makers.

The management of the company still has the opportunity to set fixed overall goals. Achieving this and breaking it down into smaller milestones is ultimately up to the employees themselves.

What is the importance of self-organization?

While self-organization was only labeled a “trend” for a long time, the tide has now turned. More and more companies are realizing that self-organization by employees can provide a real competitive advantage. After all, it is important to be able to adapt quickly and efficiently to new circumstances in the face of constantly changing market conditions. However, this only works 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 take far too long. As a result, important time is often wasted.

The self-organization model, however, aims to position employees in such a way that they themselves have responsibility, decisions and measures within their given framework. In this way, he can react independently and efficiently to changes.

Where is the key to effectiveness?

In addition to many different agile measures, an effective and efficient self-organization of the workforce mainly depends on one aspect. The opportunity to make decisions yourself.

Because if you tell the individual employee exactly what task he has to do when and if he has to obtain the approval of the supervisor for each sub-process, he cannot carry out self-organized work. Instead, situations like the one in the following graphic arise:

Employees must therefore be able to rely on the confidence that they are also able to make their own decisions. Ultimately, this not only promotes self-organization. At the same time, the workforce often feels more respected, recognized and noticed. This often results in higher job satisfaction. Valued employees are ultimately usually willing to invest more input and effort in their services and thus achieve significantly better results as well as more successful performance in the long term.

Tip: Read my book: SMEs in digital change at Springer Gabler or book me for a talk .


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I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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