Self-organisation is not the opposite of command-and-control

Chris Rodgers argues that we confuse self-organisation with empowerment.

Too often, consultants and writers who claim to be speaking from a complexity perspective talk of self-organization as a design parameter. On that basis, they advise managers that they should create structures and systems that will “allow greater opportunity for self-organization to occur”. But, self-organization is not a matter of management choice. It is a given. It occurs just as much in a so-called “command and control” regime as it does in one designed to facilitate widespread self-management.

I think this is a useful perspective. I’ve written before that every process has a shadow, so that whatever ideas we have about how a system works, there will always be some other, less obviously compliant, way in which participants operate. If we get too attached to labelling a system as command-and-control, we risk not seeing the informal networks that operate alongside it and are, probably, symbiotic.

I often have the experience of first seeing a situation as stuck before then discovering there is some other way of responding to it that creates change. Someone will take a rigid stance, people will tell you that this person will never change. And then you may discover something surprising.

Likewise, all too many idealised prescriptions for groovy self-management usually mask some unconscious demand for compliance and control.

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