The fulfillment of basic human needs in self-managed organizations

#sociocracy #self-management #motivation #futureofwork #systemchange

When I started to learn and use sociocracy in 2010, I looked things up in the academic literature; being a college teacher and having done research before, it’s a place I go regularly to find things out. Just to say, I found next to nothing. So, there is a lot of work to do to bridge the gap between self-management models and organizational science. But, there was an obvious link that stood out of my teachings of human motivation and this is what I want to share with you.

My objective is to outline a mindset that we should nurture to make our organizations and people thrive. It is a mindset about why self-management is the future of work and of social organization. Self-management is not another fad for improving efficiency, it is about a human-centered future.

I want to build a bridge between self-management and Self-Determination Theory in psychology. After a brief overview of the theory, my goal is to show how specific self-management practices are key in nurturing people’s fundamental psychological needs. I hope this understanding will help us focus on the important organizational factors to engage people and foster their performance, creativity, and well-being.

Self-determination theory

Self-determination theory is a major theory of human motivation. It has been developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, and refined by numerous scholars over the last 40 years. Last year, Deci and Ryan published a book summarizing the theory and its numerous applications in education, parenting, healthcare, sport, work, etc. You also find lots of information on the self-determination website.

SDT has its roots in humanistic psychology and many of its ideas are similar to previous theories. What distinguishes SDT is its strong empirical base so that its principles are well documented by numerous scientific studies. We are way ahead from Maslow’s hierarchy or pyramid of needs.

This humanistic foundation means that SDT is “centrally concerned with the social conditions that facilitate or hinder human flourishing” which is based on “inherent human capacities for psychological growth, engagement and wellness”. And those capacities are based on the satisfaction of feelings of competence, autonomy and relatedness.

As humans and other organisms have certain biological needs, we also have psychological needs. We need to feel we’re good at something, we need to feel in control of our lives, and we need to feel we belong. SDT’s approach differs from other theories about psychological needs, because it posits a core set of basic universal needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness.

Similarly to biological needs, humans share a core set of universal psychological needs.

Like biological needs will be fulfilled by environmental resources such as water and food, basic psychological needs are fulfilled by a nurturing social environment that allows people to grow and actualize their potentials. SDT is as much a theory of human intrinsic needs than a theory of the social context nurturing those needs.

The relationship between the person and the environment is reciprocal and dynamic.

Both are constantly transforming each other, either toward synthesis or toward greater person-environment conflict. This dynamic between a person’s needs and its environment applies to many life’s domains including work; work can be a place of of great satisfaction when it is nurturing our needs but it can also be a misery when we are controlled, watched and isolated.

Before looking into how specific work patterns interact with the basic psychological needs, let’s identify the general social conditions nurturing the needs.

  1. Feelings of autonomy are produced by opportunities for self-direction, listening to one’s perspective, and psychological safety. Rather than control, ignorance, and power over.
  2. Feelings of competence are generated by tackling optimal challenges, neither too easy, nor too hard, by receiving constructive feedback, and by the acceptance of errors.
  3. Third, feelings of relatedness are produced by social interactions and a culture that put people at least at the same level as tasks or organizational needs.

Therefore, various features of the social environment will fulfill psychological needs resulting in many personal outcomes such engagement, growth, health and wellbeing. It is important to remember that  engagement is an outcome and it is a mistake trying to improve engagement in itself. What engages people are sustainable nurturing environments.

Self-management models have multiple ingredients to build an organizational culture that will fulfill the three core psychological needs.

Nurturing practices

What are those ingredients in the form of patterns, practices and behaviors? For this exercise, I created a table including the three basic needs and three levels of practices: individual, team and organizational. The goal here is not to create a precise and exhaustive classification of all practices but to give us some clarity on which patterns are the most important for nurturing the basic psychological needs. I could have used different self-management models for this exercise: Laloux’s synthesis, Holacracy®, Slade’s Going Horizontal or Dignan’s OS canvas. I used the Sociocracy 3.0 (S3) guide because I feel that James, Bernhard and Lily have done a great job in creating a clear set of well circumscribed and accessible patterns.

 

Individual Level
(S3 patterns)
Team Level
(S3 patterns)

Organization Level
(S3 principles)

Autonomy

Role

Objection

Consent

Proposal forming

Domain

Accountability

Consent

Competence

Peer feedback

Development plan

Agreements

Evaluations

Empiricism

Continuous improvement

Effectiveness

Relatedness Agree on values

Those Affected Decide

Double linking

Circle

Rounds

Role selection

Equivalence

Transparency

 

Let’s take a look now at some specific patterns.

Individual level

At the individual level, roles give autonomy to people. Not to mention that they have consented to hold roles. Objection is also a pattern in which individual perspectives are taken into account and brought into collective intelligence.

The structure offered by peer feedback and a development plan is completely aligned with SDT theory about the need for competence. Colleagues can provide clear goals, communicate constructive feedback and a space for errors.

At the individual level, many patterns could be placed for the relatedness need. Agreeing on values makes you align your individual values with those of the organization. Although sociocracy allows circles to make decisions for the whole organization in their respective domain, various means should be taken to include those affected by the decision or evaluation. Lastly, double-linking allows deep cooperation with another team that yours.

Team level

Let’s turn to the team level. Of course, consent decision-making being rational, invitational, and accepting, it is a central force in nurturing autonomy. Proposal forming is about inviting into the diversity of perspectives brought by each one in a team. And domains make it clear what you are responsible for.

On the competence side, I believe that agreements (or proposals) and evaluations are a major force in growing a sense of collective efficacy, a belief in your team’s capacity to deliver.

What are the team patterns nurturing the relatedness need? Let’s put the circle with its capacity to create cohesion and safety among the members. Rounds are powerful in establishing equivalence and belonging to the team. And being unanimously selected by your peers for a role is a strong social validation.

Organizational level

We can look through the organizational level with the seven principles put forward by Sociocracy 3.0. Accountability and consent are about the individual’s responsibility to take ownership of the course of the organization, an autonomy-supportive environment. Empiricism, continuous improvement and effectiveness are about getting better at what we do individually and collectively, a competence-supportive environment. And equivalence and transparency are about being fully involved in the organization. You are not being left out in any way by power and secrecy, a relatedness-supportive environment.

Finally, tensions and drivers are crucial patterns to attend to needs at all levels. These are patterns to become aware of our need thwarting.

Self-determination theory as an organizational mindset

My take-home message is to use SDT theory as a mindset that people should develop to make their organizations and its people thrive whatever model you are applying. This mindset is simple: autonomy, competence and relatedness. This mindset should help you remember or create practices that fulfill the needs of people and yours.

Let’s finished by quoting Deci and Ryan.

“The concept of basic psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness provides the framework for understanding the implications of SDT for the workplace. Every policy and practice implemented within a work organization is likely to either support or thwart the basic psychological needs. Anyone interested in improving the work context within an organization and thus the performance and wellness of its employees could evaluate any policy or practice being considered in terms of whether it is likely to (a) allow the employees to gain competencies and/or feel confident, (b) experience the freedom to experiment and initiate their own behaviors and not feel pressured and coerced to behave as directed, and (c) feel respect and belonging in relation to both supervisors and peers.”

This article was the content of a presentation given at the International Sociocracy Online Conference, 1st May 2018.

Bibliography

http://selfdeterminationtheory.org/

Self-determination theory in work organizations: The state of a science
Edward L. Deci, Anja H. Olafsen, Richard M. Ryan
Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior 2017 4:1, 19-43

Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness
Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci
Guilford Publishing. 2017.

Understanding motivation and emotion (7th ed.)
Johnmarshall Reeve
Wiley 2018

Domains:
Segments:
Methodologies and tools: holacracy-en | |

What is self-management, really?

What’s the difference between participatory management and self-management?

If you’re an agile learning organisation, does that mean that you practice self-management? Almost, but not quite, is the short answer.

Since 2007, the social enterprise percolab functions with a strong learning culture and edgy practice.  Nobody tells anyone what to do, people show up as their full selves and purpose is the driving force behind the work. Percolab helps clients create the conditions for collaboration and adaptable organizational culture. We work with a wide range of clients from community groups through to government and startups. We use a blend of ancient and new social methodologies and a dash of technology.

Each new person who joins the team (we are 10 and growing) has to figure out  how to get on in this nonconventional company. Many typical employee  behaviours are difficult to play out as the other party (ie. the employer) doesn’t cooperate as a boss. The team ensures most staff support functions. We all partake in business development, communication, marketing, invoicing and human resources. Everyone works when and where they want, even though our offices are in coworkings. Anyone can manage projects or start a collective venture. No one asks permission to take vacation, attend an event or training. Our team meetings take place in circle.

paul

Percolab team member working where and when he wishes.

Yet, despite all that freedom and innovative practice, who was making  the significant strategy decisions? The two co-founders! Flattening the organisational processes and practicing collective intelligence was not enough for the company to flourish in self-management.  The company needed a new structure to support the team to lean forward and the co-founders to lean back.

As the team grew  we were becoming less and less comfortable with the title of “Co-directors”. The notion of “directing” someone seemed contrary to the working culture we were nourishing.  The co-director titles were maintaining a hierarchical paradigm we were stepping away from. Could we not be co-learning and co-evolving  together instead?

The big shift

In 2015 two shifts happened at percolab. First, the co-founders shared the financial files of the company with the whole team. Yes, financial reporting, invoicing, budgets, expenses, payroll was now available to all. Second, the co-founders brought 12 key strategic proposals to the team.  The whole team openly discussed the proposals and adopted them together. These two acts are what set percolab into its full self-managing swing. The co-founders were becoming conscious of the subtleties of power dynamics. The team was not going to self-organise without a formal structure that could help us unravel our habits. Team members needed to stop deferring to the co-founders for figuring things out.  The co-founders needed to stop making decisions for others before anyone could get involved.

How had we found ourselves at this place? Easy enough. The co-founders had been making strategic decisions since the company’s beginnings. Space and freedom for the team was not enough for others to elbow in.  Our daily culture of collective intelligence, experimentation and openness created the illusion that we were self-governing.  It was not easy to see that co-founders were excluding the team from key financial information and strategic decision making. The classic dynamics of money and power were amongst us!

A new structure

As collaborative practitioners with a self-organising mindset we have been able to shift quite naturally and in a way that we can be proud of. Once we had made a collective decision to modify our functioning, change flowed  easily. Within weeks we were set up in a light version of self-management. We integrated certain principles from holacracy. We mapped out the myriad tasks of the company and grouped them into 30 roles that we co-wrote together. We held a workshop to attribute the roles. We all took on roles that we wanted or roles that someone else thought we could steward well. No one assigned anyone a role. It was clear that the roles would rotate between us over time. As simple as that, authority was now distributed within the organisation. Given our ease with prototyping novel practices, working with roles feels good.  It’s a practice that we will play with and fine tune for a long time forward, as learners.

Lessons learned

Today, we are a more conscious team. We know how easily hierarchical command and control reflexes can creep up, even on those who work in participatory ways.  We are clear that there is no need to be making all decisions all together. We trust other team members to make wise decisions for the company using exemplary decision making processes. In the next articles we will share the nuts and bolts of how we got rolling on our self-organising structure.  For now, here are the three lessons that stand out.

1. Being a purpose driven, funky and participatory company does not equate to self-management.

2. With a strong learning and experimentation culture, the shift to self-organisation is a relief and release.

3. Self-management doesn’t just spontaneously happen, it needs to be named and structured.

Domains:


Segments:

| | | | | | | | |
Methodologies and tools: holacracy-en | |
| | |
| |