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InfoQ Homepage Presentations The Age of the Self-Managed Organization

The Age of the Self-Managed Organization



Doug Kirkpatrick discusses self-management: creating an organization without bosses and titles, being agile and innovative, and creating strategic business advantages.


Doug Kirkpatrick is an organizational change consultant with NuFocus Strategic Group, TEDx and keynote speaker, author, and educator. Doug is the author of Beyond Empowerment: The Age of the Self-Managed organization, and a monthly contributor to the Huffington Post. He is a director at the Association for Talent Development (ATD), and a Senior Professional in Human Resources.

About the conference

2½ days of authentic short stories and facilitated deep dives on business agility; focusing on organisational design, market disruption and product innovation, agile outside IT and next-gen leadership.

Recorded at:

Apr 08, 2017

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Community comments

  • Great talk.

    by Jeff Hain,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Some takeaways:

    - Morning Star, "the largest tomatoes processor in the world".

    - "Is it possible to create humans organizations, that allow human beings to thrive,
    to prosper, to be happy, to do their very best work, to reach their full potential?"

    - Two core principles:
    1) "Human beings should not use force or coercion against other human beings."
    2) "People should keep the commitments they make to each other."

    - "No bosses, zero command authority."

    - "People are managers already in their own personal lives."

    - "We have work, and we have human beings performing work,
    and they are coordinating with each other
    through interlocking mutual performance agreements."

    - "Steve Denning today talked about friction between bureaucraty
    and the agile teams.
    Well when there is no bureaucraty, there's a lot less friction."

    - "We eliminated what's called the management tax (financial burden)."

    - "Changed the cost structure of an entire industry."

    - "If an agro business can figure out how to do this,
    and grow from zero to become the largest in this industry,
    in the world, with no human bosses, why would any tech company,
    or startup, or even manufacturer, want to maintain the management systems,
    of the 1950s, when information moved at the speed of morse code?"

  • Re: Great talk.

    by Jeff Hain,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    About the last idea (if it works for tomatoes processing, it should work for tech companies), it might be true for the self-management part, but not for the self-leadership part, because in tech the goals are often not as obvious as for tomatoes processing, and some people might still need a leader to set the goals for them in the first place, even if they can self-manage afterwards (cf. "alignment" and "autonomy" at Spotify).

  • Re: Great talk.

    by Doug Kirkpatrick,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Thanks for the takeaways, Jeff. Was glad to be able to incorporate Steve Denning's observations into the talk.

    When I mentioned antiquated management systems in the conclusion, I was actually referring to the 1840s---at the birth of the modern industrial age. We're still clinging to management systems better suited for the age of Morse Code.

  • Re: Great talk.

    by Doug Kirkpatrick,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Thanks for the comment about self-management vs. self-leadership, Jeff.

    Regarding self-leadership: goal setting and strategic planning can be considered to be additional processes that happen to be owned by one or more individual decision-makers who happen to be good at making those kinds of decisions.

    Ownership of decision rights for those important processes doesn't require command authority any more than decision right ownership for any other kind of process in a self-managed organization. In self-management, decisions around those processes can be challenged by anyone at anytime, and anyone can request a reallocation of those decision rights to other stakeholders.

    Self-leadership in a tech setting where a recognized leader is setting goals for others would then consist of challenging, and perhaps assuming, that person's right to set goals based on knowledge, experience, vision, additional information or any other legitimate basis.

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