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Self-Management: a vision of the future? – part two

Self-Management: a vision of the future part one – introduced the idea of self-managed teams explaining what they are and how they work. In part two we explore the idea working in practice, and how you would move from traditional hierarchical structures to self-management.

Moving from a hierarchical structure to self-management

Shifting from an existing management hierarchy to self-management sounds daunting, but you can test the water in specific standalone projects. People Puzzles is currently trialling the system in three business development projects key to the company’s future success. The projects were identified by the team, who then decided what the end goal should be and who would work on what project.

Ally Maughan, founder of People Puzzles, admits that it felt strange to work this way. ‘You are relinquishing control over the outcome of the project and face the fact that they may not come up with the answer that you think might work.’

The trial run is something of an experiment. ‘It could all fall apart, people might get distracted by other things,’ says Ally. ‘But ideally, they’ll set a budget, scope the project and then we will agree who the right people are, with the right cost and resources behind it to deliver it successfully.’ The idea is that when people choose what they get involved with, their motivation is tapped and they are more likely to give their best.

‘It’s a big shift for people who’ve grown up in business over the last few decades and have been trained to be a cog in the machine,’ Ally continues. ‘So we’re not sure what the outcome of the journey will be, but this will test the waters and we can experience, as business leaders, what it’s like to relinquish control. It’s all about what kind of business you’re building and how much you want to build your team.’

Other issues to consider

Moving to self-management is much easier if the will is there from all employees, but even more critical is buy-in by the senior team, who by definition, will be divested of power. ‘What you do with the current leadership team is a huge question,’ says Debra, a Regional Director at People Puzzles. However, Nick Osborne, a business consultant and certified coach in the Holacracy self-management system, maintains that moving to self-management can free former leaders and managers from their leadership/management duties, giving them space to do the work they might have joined the organisation for in the first place.

Which also leads to the thorny issue of salaries and whether money is redistributed. ‘There isn’t a formula for this because different companies end up doing salaries in their own ways,’ explains Nick. ‘In some situations, the decision-making about how much people get paid is shared and in others, it’s left to other roles, or is embedded in a process. The removal of constraints of how we are used to setting salaries opens up space for a whole lot of innovative and creative approaches.’

What sort of companies would best fit a self-managed model?

A self-managed model seems to have the most natural fit with tech companies, particularly those that use agile software. But it can work with other organisations, as case studies in the influential book, Reinventing Organizations, can attest. Nick has worked with a number of businesses, including a small entrepreneurial manufacturer, who have adopted the Holacracy system.

Debra can see that the system would not only make a company more attractive to potential job candidates but also to customers. ‘There isn’t really any research to show the commercial benefit of adopting this system, but it may be that the long-term return on investment is about branding,’ she says. ‘If it seems that you are doing good in the workplace, you can be more attractive to customers.’

The start of a debate?

For Debra, the idea of self-managed teams and its pushing of boundaries in current management structures seems like an evolutionary step, but it still feels like unchartered territory and one which raises questions from business owners she has discussed it with. ‘It promises more transparency, an opportunity to learn and grow – to go in somewhere and make a difference. But I’d feel nervous implementing it fully in an established organisation, because if it doesn’t work, how do you come back from it?’

However, Nick sees it as the current direction of traffic, both in terms of the emerging workforce and in what he terms ‘VUCA’ – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous -business environments. ‘The companies that survive will be those more flexible and able to change,’ he says.

Whatever your opinion on self-managed teams, it seems that the jury is still out on where it will go next. How much of an influence will it have on team structures of the future? We at People Puzzles will be watching (both externally and internally with our trial) with interest and will be happy to update clients on progress as we see it!

If you’re interested in finding out more about self-management, watch Nick’s interactive tour and animated videos, or find out more about Holacracy or see examples of organisations practicing in the Enlivening Edge newsletter.

If you’d like to discuss your management structure and getting the most out of your team, People Puzzles can help. Contact us at hello@peoplepuzzles.co.uk or call 0808 164 5826.


This is an inspiring story and its all true. I can’t believe it’s about us! We’ve accomplished a lot over the last 18 months.

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