+61 (0)419 866 427 mike@mikeschwarzer.com

Self-Organising Cultures

Self-Organising Cultures

Who do we choose to be?


“An organization, no matter how well designed, is only as good as the people who live and work in it.”

Dee Hock, Founder and first CEO of VISA


The world is changing … are you asleep or stuck in an outdated modus operandi?

Technological advances and market disruptions are happening at an increasingly rapid speed which is greatly affecting organisations ability to adjust quick enough to the  environments that they operate in.

Does your organisation find it challenging to …
  • Keep up with the changing environment?
  • Create the change required and make it stick?
  • Keep your staff engaged and motivated?
Do you want an organisation with a culture and capacity that is …
  • Forward thinking – creative and innovative
  • Grounded – resilient and durable
  • Responsive – flexible and adaptive

Conventional or hierarchical organisational structures that are reliant on a command and control style regime with decision-making largely controlled by a few managers within the organisation and information fed from the top down are outdated in responding to the demands of those environments.

Today’s business conditions are described as Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA). The future can no longer be predicted by past experiences. Being able to adapt to those conditions requires more fluid organisational structures and cultures. Ones that can draw from the collective wisdom of the wider diversity of its workforce, allow for distributed decision making and that have a learning philosophy, are naturally more flexible, adaptive, resilient and creative in nature.

How to prepare for this VUCA world?

“I am as good to me as you are to you, therefore we are equal” Dee Hock

To be better prepared and positioned for this VUCA world of business the need to explore and transition from a Hierarchical and Mechanistic Organisational Structure to Self-Organising and Network Structure based on Living ‘Open’ System Principles arises.

This transition involves changing the way that we relate, interact and work with each other in a workplace context.

A learning organisation and a community of practice. The focus is on community, one that learns and collaborates as one unified group. Where members of the community see and treat each other as equal human beings, value each other’s differences and support each other to achieve organisational goals and those of our clients.

How do living systems in organisations work?

Firstly, human beings, by nature, are a living system. We are organic, flesh and blood, beings and as such are a product of the self-organising principles of biology and Mother Nature.

We are built for self-organisation! It is in our very nature to self-organise. For some reason, gifted with an ego mind, mankind decided that the broader masses are incapable of self-regulation and must be treated as machines and controlled as such. Hence, we have been conditioned over centuries to think and act like mechanical man, with only a few to hold all the information and decision-making powers, and the rest to follow as told. This conditioning is firmly embodied in the psychology and neurology of most organisational cultures as a natural way of being in the world. This approach may have served us well in days gone by as the world was changing at a much slower rate.

In today’s climate, even with the best intentions, when organisations try to respond to the changing business conditions, they get stuck in their embodiment of this mechanical thinking which lacks the needed flexibility, responsiveness and collective wisdom of their workforce. Initiatives to respond often include band aid solutions or isolated projects that lack the consideration and understanding of the dynamic nature of the whole.

Transitioning to a living system thinking from the ground up!

“What will become compellingly important is absolute clarity of shared purpose and set of principles of conduct sort of institutional genetic code that every member of the organization understands in a common way, and with deep conviction.” Dee Hock

As a living ‘open’ system or self-organising community, we organise and orientate ourselves around our ‘SHARED’ organisational identity and core principles. The role of identity and principles in a self-organising system is to create the space and dynamic where self-regulation can occur. A balanced interplay between challenge and order which is regulated by the autonomy, accountability, responsibility and democracy that identity and principles evoke.

Our identity is the embodiment of who we are and what we stand for. It is the expression of our vision, our purpose/mission, our values and our beliefs and ultimately observable in how we act and behave.

Treat identity as a force field or energy that occupies space and influences behaviour (Margaret Wheatley, Who do we choose to be?).

Our core principles are the ground rules or procedural guidelines of the community through which all members of the community conduct themselves in living its purpose and values.

The important aspects when creating the ground rules is that:

Firstly, their nature and function must allow and stimulate self-organisation.

Secondly, each principle must be part of the whole and not a stand-alone rule. In other words, all principles are working in unison as part of the whole system of principles.

Those ground rules act as ‘memorandum of understanding’ and that sets the behavioural boundaries for autonomy and accountability for the community and its members. Essentially, each member of the community is accountable to the organisational purpose and the core principles, not an assigned manager or body of managers.

Identity and principles must be intrinsically interconnected and embodied in behaviour. They must be ethical, moral and ecological in nature.

It is critical that all members or a significant core group of members are invited and involved in the creation of identity and principles of the community. As such, identity and principles are derived by emergence from the input of these members.


If the above information arouses your curiosity and you would like to explore how transitioning your culture into a self-organising powerhouse can benefit your organisation …

… then contact Mike on 0419 866 427 within Australia or +61 419 866 427 outside Australia or email click here.