This week I noticed myself attempting to more rapidly foster a self-organizing work group, so thought I’d share what I did. This post is for people who believe in the power of these groups but who, like me, aren’t particularly good at sitting patiently, emptying yourself, and quietly waiting for the universe to bring forth your next self-organizing work group…

I met a person at a conference last month who I was drawn to immediately. His expertise, background, and way of being aren’t at all like my own. I felt immediately that I would benefit from working with him, although I wasn’t entirely sure how. He promptly sent me e-mail, saying he’d like to hear more about my work. After he heard more, he promptly followed up saying that he’s drawn to my work and interested in working with me. To my ear, this already has the makings of a self-org work group:

  • We’re drawn to each other’s work and expertise, believing that we can be better together than on our own.
  • In a short time, he’s shown up for me again and again, even though I know he’s busy. I’ve done the same for him.
  • We’re each going with our gut to a certain extent, because we don’t know each other all that well yet.

So I did something I’ve never done before. In e-mail, I directly asked this relative stranger:

“How do you feel about working as a self-organizing work group with me? I’m not interested in working any other way than as part of these groups, and I work this way from the beginning. This means that you’ll see me:

  1. Make the decision to work with you based more on instinct than logical plan.
  2. Allow group spontaneity (what we come up with on the fly together) to win out over individual plans and ideas. Often, not always.
  3. Comfortable continuing to move in the same general direction together when we don’t agree. And I won’t feel the need to agree on everything, since one value of these groups is being able to hold and honor multiple perspectives.
  4. Give more time and energy to this group than to other people/groups. You won’t have to prompt me to get work done or to communicate with you (one sign that a self-org work group is nearing its end is when members begin to struggle to do this).
  5. Trust you completely—particularly with respect to your job role—immediately and for as long as we know each other. Also through role, organization, and other life changes. This is in part because I know that we’ll eventually be a fast, effective, and unstoppable group. I figure the sooner we can get to this point, the better, and I find that starting by offering my complete trust helps.
  6. Allow the group to pull and push me outside of my comfort zones. Regard the group as the leader and see myself as a learner in it and lucky to be part of it.

I expect the same of all group members while recognizing that everyone will get to this level of trust in the group in their own time. Having been part of 15 of these groups, today I skip the ‘Can I trust this person?’ and ‘Can I be myself with this person?’ parts. When I work with someone I want to work with who is choosing to work with me, I don’t need these questions.”

I figure if he’s interested in working like this, we might as well start from the beginning to the extent possible. I’m not this forward with everyone I meet. With him I intuitively sensed that he could handle me being me right away. For example, sending a deluge of ideas at a person in the beginning is a bad habit of mine. I learned long ago that most people don’t like it. But I’ve also learned that I don’t have to please everyone. I want to find and work with my people—that is, people who want to work as self-org work groups with me. I’ve learned that my people tolerate this bad habit, and some—bless their hearts—even find it endearing. Is he one of my people? I’ll find out soon enough one way or the other.

In sharing my expectations of the group and myself, I also shared my expectations of him. Will some people be put off by this? Yep. But again, I’m not after working with everyone. I’m after finding self-organizing work group members who want to work with me. This is me. Welcome to me!

The list I threw together for him on the fly is some of the common themes I’ve experienced across the 15 self-organizing work groups I’ve studied—specifically related to rapidly fostering these groups. There are many other ways to do it. Other common themes can be seen in what I did:

  • Be your whole self—to the extent possible—from the beginning. This means you’re not just putting your best foot forward (the resume Lori), but you’re also being brave enough to share a flaw or two as well (the real Lori).
  • Stretch yourself in little ways outside your comfort zone. It wasn’t easy sending that message to an almost complete stranger. Whether we work together or not, I’ll still be happy I did it because I learned something about myself and the people I want to work with by doing it. I’ve noticed that I do little stretches like this on my own and that I allow my self-org work groups to stretch me in big, unexpected, and life-changing ways.
  • Let go of trying to find (or be) the perfect person to work with. Amazing SOWGs don’t need perfect individuals to be amazing. Just look for someone who makes you think “I’d be more _____ working with this person.” Fill in that blank with whatever word matters to you—creative, brave, prepared, connected, technically savvy, organized, outgoing, fun, able to communicate with certain others, whatever. Look for people who allow you to be you while stretching you.
  • Communicate what you want as an individual. The down side is that what you want as an individual is NOT going to be exactly what this group is about or where this group is going. The up side is that the group will take you BETTER places and allow you to see yourself as something more than you could imagine on your own. Communicating what you want as an individual helps draw the people to you who you should be working with (not necessarily the people you expect). Have you heard the term “strange attractor”? That’s kind of what I’m talking about. You’re going somewhere. As an individual, you don’t know exactly where. As a self-organizing work group, you won’t know exactly either. But you’ll have a more rewarding trip and a lot more fun getting there.