There are many misconceptions about self-organizing, and one of the reasons lies on the name. People tend to interpret the name as a lack of structure and as a place where everyone does whatever they like in an anarchistic way. In this article we share with you five of the most common misconceptions around self-organizing and a better and more open explanation of how it works in reality:

Misconception #1: Because of the absence of a manager (meaning a boss), people think that a self-organized group is just a group of people that will do whatever they want, with no direction, or that the strongest person in the group become an informal manager.

How it works in reality:
Leadership is even more important in self-organizing than in traditional organizations. Self-organizing requires leaders with a series of skills like authenticity, adaptability, and empathy. They also need to have the ability to make things happen in a collaborative way but without losing the expected outcome and following the aim. This imply that everybody in the group needs to develop leadership skills, not only the leaders or the leadership team. This is because everybody contributes in leading others and in leading themselves.

Misconception #2: Decision-making takes a very long time because everybody is involved.

How it works in reality:
This is both a misconception about self-organizing and a common mistake that organizations make when they start adopting a self-organizing way of working. To implement a new decision-making approach, the first thing to do is to classify decisions into strategic, tactical/development, and operational. The second step is to decide who will be involved in the different decisions and how.
Operational decisions need to be made by the people that are at the front line. They have the knowledge to do so. Tactical/development decisions usually involve people across different functions or domains. These actors know the topic and are closely involved in the work that will be performed. Finally, strategical decisions are reserved for the group or team that is responsible of the strategy.
Therefore, the main difference with traditional organizations is that people at the front line can do their job without asking their manager. Secondly, groups that make tactical/development and strategical decisions collect and consider people’s opinions. Finally, the opinions are used to enrich the proposal before making decisions.

Misconception #3: Not having role descriptions will confuse responsibilities or will leave essential tasks falling through the cracks.

How it works in reality:
We have observed that in a well-implemented self-organized company, what happens is the opposite. Teams have well-defined areas of responsibilities and those are in focus. Instead of static role descriptions that delimitate what people can do, the self-organized team emphasizes on competences that the individuals bring to the team, and they give space and chance to utilize those fully.

Misconception #4: Not everybody can work in self-organized groups and take responsibilities. Some people like to be “led”, meaning they both like and need a manager to tell them what to do.

How it works in reality:
This is a very wrong conception because people are competent to take responsibilities and that is what they do in their private life, where they can act as adults, make decisions and do the best they can. Creating a culture where people can be themselves instead of wearing a mask will enable EVERYBODY to take responsibilities and to thrive.

Misconception #5: The financial results will be at risk because of the absence of KPIs.

How it works in reality:
Companies that have fully implemented a self-organizing way of working apply an open book meaning that financial figures are open and available for the employees and sometimes also to the public. People are trained to understand the meaning of financial figures and their implications. Having a good understanding of the organization’s financial results generates a different kind of performance, especially if some percentage of the profit goes back to the people that do the work.

Some final words about self-organizing:

Self-organizing can be achieved with Teal as an approach using sociocracy or holocracy as a system. It can also be based on agile ways of working or a mix of all those approaches, philosophies, and systems. The essential matter is to understand that a systemic approach is needed as organizations are living systems where everything is connected.

Future of Organizing AB developed an evidence base model to understand the state of an organization, team, or project and to support their transformation towards a more modern way of organizing. The name is DP-model where DP stays for Distributed Power.

You can find more information about the DP-model at

Alicia Medina, PhD
Future of Organizing