Self-organising work environment

Bob and I have been thinking about self-organising work environments again.  Let’s face it, who hasn’t?  Ever since I saw Sugata Mitra’s work at the first Dynamo conference I’ve been wondering how to get individuals and teams to come together and deliver what is required with the minimal amount of management intervention.  Sugata is interested in learning environments but the principles should be the same.  He is more SOLE than SOWE.

Really I have been thinking about this a lot longer.  I have read a lot of Edward de Bono’s books and he has often talked about self-organising systems where things just happen without any apparent intervention.  Water systems are self-organising.  The weather is self-organising and anyone who has ever been amazed by the aerial acrobatics of flocking starlings has witnessed a perfect example of a self-organising system.

We met again with the folks from Newcastle University.  This was a follow up from a meeting held previously with Bob’s managers.  As always with these meetings, where academia meets conceptual thinking, it takes a while to get down to the question of ‘OK, what are we going to do?’  There are just too many interesting and exciting avenues to explore.

How do we find a subject that allows a group of people to come together to learn an approach to their work which, although is a natural part of their daily lives, seems unnatural within a work environment?

For some reason people have an expectation to be managed when at work, to be given a set of tasks and instructed on how to complete them, in what way and by when, yet this is not how we operate outside of work.  There we communicate and collaborate.  We find ways to resolve our issues without reference to managerial input.  We seek guidance when appropriate or wanted.

So why the difference?  Remember that going to work is not a natural part of human history.  It is a relatively modern invention, especially working in a corporate environment.

What we need is a more beautiful question, one that is big enough and radical enough to test people’s assumptions about work yet not too big as to lose everyone at the first hurdle.  We settled on something along the lines of ‘If resources were not limited, what would you be able to do at work?’  This could the lead to a supplementary ‘Ok, how do we go about finding the resources to do these things?’

We’ve gone away to give this some thought.

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