Unfolding Plans 131 – A SOWE

I’ve been thinking about how we create a self-organising work environment.  A SOWE.  I’ve been thinking about it ever since I saw Sugata Mitra’s work at the first Dynamo conference and that was well over a year and a half ago.  How do you get your teams to come together and deliver what is required with the minimal amount of management intervention?  That is the question that I am trying to answer and the environment that I want to create.

Bob is working with me on it and we are trying to draw upon the resources at Newcastle University.

I suppose though it depends upon what I mean by self-organising.  Water is self-organising but you can hardly call that a system.  It does allow me to get a quote from Bruce Lee into my blog though, ‘You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.’

Our business must take the shape of the issues and opportunities that it comes across, attracts or are presented to it.

Traffic on the other hand is a system.  Every day there are millions of road vehicle journeys.  There are probably billions but they are controlled through a small number of rules.  In this country they are, unless otherwise directed, keep to the left, drive below a certain speed limit and give way to traffic on busier roads.  That is about it.  Yes, there are many more specific rules and regulations about where you can park and whether you can overtake etc. but the three basic rules allow the vast majority of traffic to flow around the country.

There are no rules about where you decide to go.  That is up to you.  There are no rules about the route you want to take.  It can be the fastest, or shortest or most scenic and it is entirely up to you.  There are no rules about the type of vehicle that you use (other than the obvious ones about safety).  Again that is up to you.

When I drive to work I do so within a self-organising system.  In the main it works.  It breaks down when people disobey the rules.

So, in a self-organising system we need to strip away all the rules and regulations until we are left with the smallest number that allow the system to work.  This is the total opposite of how we often see our roles, that is to pile on regulation and constraints to make sure things happen correctly.  It also seems to go against the work that Virginia Mason Hospitals has done on the back of the Toyota Production System.

Perhaps not.  There are clearly some roles in which creativity and interpretation are not acceptable.  A surgical operation and the landing of an airplane spring to mind.  In such situations there should be now doubt about what should be done and the process to follow.  In most other cases though choice should be unfettered.  We need to set the people free.

I need to speak to Bob.

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