In the previous post I ended with saying I have to define the term self-organization very well in the context of this quest. This post tries to do that. I’m very curious to find out your vision on self-organization, all comments are much appreciated. If we take a look at Wikipedia, we see the following definition:
Self-organization is a process of attraction and repulsion in which the internal organization of a system, normally an open system, increases in complexity without being guided or managed by an outside source. Self-organizing systems typically (but not always) display emergent properties.
The above is a pretty complex definition, not useful for this quest. The context that is important for me is an organization, hence the part how to support self-organization in organizations in the problem statement, and I’m also interested in how to empower employees for self-organization. Therefore I have to construct a workable definition. The most important elements that are important in this context are people. After reading some scientific material, I think the definition of Francis Heylighen is better:
Self-organization is a process where the organization (constraint, redundancy) of a system spontaneously increases, i.e. without this increase being controlled by the environment or an encompassing or otherwise external system.
Again, this definition lacks an important element, which are people. My definition should be more concrete because of the specific context. But lets elaborate on the above definition first, because in general it is very useful. Self-organization can occur because of changes or triggers in the common environment. It is also spontaneous, because the system or environment doesn’t control this organization. It is completely a bottom-up type of organizing.
Let’s look at self-organization in the context of an existing organization. Traditionally, people are assigned tasks by their management. They are assigned the task because it fits their job function and have the resources available to accomplish this task. This can be very effective in some circumstances, but not always. People mostly have more competences than they use on their daily job, which can really be less effective in other circumstances. So my thesis is that people can be of more value to the organization by organizing differently, more bottom-up by letting the employees assigning tasks to themselves.
So self-organization in an organization is a process where people can self-select themselves when assigning tasks. Self-selecting can occur because of various reasons, for example because people have interest in the task, are familiar with it, or aren’t familiar with it at all but see it as a challenge. Whatever the reason is, it is always a valid one because it is self-selected. Self-organization doesn’t have to be individual, on the contrary, it works better with many people involved. Forming groups which pursue collective goals is also a form of organization which can occur rather spontaneous. This leads to the first, and probably not final, definition of self-organizing in the context of this research:
Self-organization is a process where people form groups and assign tasks to themselves or the group, by responding to triggers in the environment or system, that spontaneously increases the organization of the environment or system.
Now that we have an initial definition of self-organization, this can give direction to problem statement. How to support it and how to empower employees? But also very important is how we can measure self-organization. How do we know in what circumstances self-organization is more efficient or beneficial compared to existing types of organizing? Other important questions. I will save them for another time.