The potential of self-organising teams

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(#10 of our Together-Ensemble series)

To paraphrase Dace Kalnina, one of our speakers, if we have to achieve our ambitious agenda, it is time to tap into the full potential of staff. We can and should create more self-organising teams, within the constraints of our organisations, provided we have supporting management and open-minded colleagues.

There are many benefits to gain from challenging people, from involving them in a full project, from A to Z, and to stretch their skills to become more collaborative. Creating a happier workforce is possible.


  • Celine Schillinger is a global Engagement influencer. Celine designs & implements new leadership strategies at a global scale that enable corporate change and boost business value.She has won many awards some of which are the Knight of the French National Order of Merit (2017), Best Achievement of Operational Excellence in Pharmaceuticals & Life Sciences (2017), 40 Women to Watch Over 40 Honoree
    (2016), Most Impactful Emerging Initiative Award (2015), Best Use of Social Media for Healthcare Award (2014),
  • Alexandre Gérard is CEO of Chronoflex, one of the most famous French pioneers currently in the implementation of “freedom-form companies”. In this regard, he is one of the leaders in the field of managerial innovation. In 2009, after being hit hard by the crisis and forced into numerous redundancies, he decided to adopt liberating management. Management putting its employees in a position of freedom
    and responsibility that allows them to surpass themselves on a daily basis while being happier at work. He is the author of the best-selling book only available in French “Le patron qui ne voulait plus être le chef”.
  • Dace Kalnina has worked in the European Commission since 2006 (DIGIT, TAXUD, JRC). With a solid background in learning and development and expertise in internal communication, she has been working with staff engagement and cultural change questions since 2013.
  • Zornitza Venkova is an information and communication officer in DG HR, from where she has recently led the Coronavirus Internal Communication Task Force. She has experience in public diplomacy at the national and international level and a long career as a TV journalist covering European and World Affairs.

You can watch the webinar part here. Please note that this is internal “raw” material, not originally intended for external publication, but knowing the difficult context and associated challenges, we have decided to make it available to all. It is offered by the European Commission with a view to encourage everyone to take similar initiatives to encourage a benevolent direction. (video will be added soon).


150 colleagues had registered for this session; of whom 100 attended the webinar live and 50 took part in the workshop on 1 October 2020.

This session allowed colleagues to live an experience of what it is like to work in a self-organising team, while having the common purpose to identify actions to have a happier work. And the following recommendations emerged:

  • Conditions: More trust and authenticity, and less politics. The right to experiment – Agility; flexibility and right to fail. Rules and roles giving people know what to expect and which can be (re) negotiated as a flexibility tool. Rewarding the informal and horizontal work. Include people in projects from A to Z and make them work in a collaborative way. Less Taylorism. Culture of sharing and trust, more transparency, access to information to everyone, and opportunities for real interaction through informal gatherings. Better self-knowledge and knowledge of others. More autonomy & accountability, inclusion and less or different hierarchy (smarter managers). Remove hierarchic and organisational barriers. Sense of belonging: Have the feeling that I contribute to the team work and this contribution is recognised.
  • Strategies: Rehumanize our work. Concrete example of flexibility and rigidity, its opposite. Sharing weaknesses and strong points is key to a self-organising team, which needs trust building first. Risk-taking not to work in silos. Looking for synergies and complementarity of people. To be more involved in the organisation of my service, sometimes, we better know the “terrain” than our superiors. More involvement in decisions by the superiors. Give to members of the team responsibility without increasing risk. Less egocentric management. Sharing the process to achieve objectives. Need for rotation= someone can become a leader in certain circumstances, called distributed leadership or leadership teams. Managers to practice letting go and humility. Leading a project like craftsmanship from A to Z, interactive and varied. Giving mandate to colleagues to deal with their files. Responsibility, open attitude, maturity, no dominant individuals. Dropping of the masks and strategizing. Less political embarrassment. Politics undermines professionalism. Get the maximum out of everyone’s talents. Enough time to deliver in horizontal teams. Break down the vertical structure by showing colleagues that their work can be recognised/rewarded in a horizontal structure as well. Courage needs to be valued. Greater sense of priority and of purpose.
  • Tools: Icebreaker session before working as a team. Real discussion at an early stage. Team-building games. Sharing the knowledge gained after a training, mentoring programme, collaborative platforms such as Teams. More control of the (working) time. Liberty – Equality – Fraternity as a motto. Managers should never announce a transformation but act, and be role models. Teamwork in self-organising teams should be encouraged. It produces even better results due to less formal discussions. Short-term temporary horizontal set ups, in which you trust the team to find a way to reduce barriers. Should we decide that nobody is “head of something” or “director” or manager, forever? How to share rewards? Offering a participative environment to our colleagues. Make every voice heard. Ban of all the buzz words. Give ourselves shorter deadlines (for example rather than one year for a policy development) on certain things to push us. Finding time for a stop in order to think and reflect why and what we are doing. Finding the bigger picture in the sense of team work, i.e. how we can interact in order to encourage interconnection and achieve together more planning and less firefighting. Being treated as a policy maker, not as a 1-person fire brigade. And let’s not forget to “plant seeds”, or there will no longer be any “forest left”. Reward horizontal tasks. Reflect/agree on purpose. Hence define long-term priorities and then on short-term actions to reach them. Create teams with colleagues from different units/directorates/DGs. Regular open collective reflection on how we work. Flexibility of working hours to allow for better balance. Arrange working hours within a broader team. Small core team to innovate & test ideas with. One single platform sharing files. Everyone to use the same IT platform for communicating, exchange of information. Start with a survey on IT experiences.
  • Barriers: Issue: time to do the “normal” work and work in the horizontal teams. Behaviour issue/culture issue: is the manager willing accept, to give the necessary time? Competition vs. Interdependence. We need to reward more the informal. Smart working tools and digital competence.
  • Benefits of working in SOT: get visibility, acquire expertise, you can share with other, build up a network that can improve your influence, develop new skills, new contacts and networks. Recognition. Meaningful contribution: co-created content, diverse inputs from others. Often more creative work and thinking time, especially to think out of the box. Diversity (across boundaries and competences e.g. legal, HR, content expertise, etc.) and versatile skills in a team, and supportive team members. Attitudes to develop: openness to ideas, humility towards the perspectives of others, deep listening (listen to understand), cross-silo collaboration (vs competition), risk taking. become more agile and quick, more efficient decision making (window of opportunity vs multi-annual planning), rationalizing processes and procedures, we have the tools but need to become more innovative – link competence to tools. Collaborate more and compete less. Diversity (across boundaries and competencies e.g. legal, HR, content expertise, etc.) and versatile skills in a team, and supportive team members. Recognize that in the end, we all work for our institutions; not just an individual DG/directorate/unit/team.
  • General recommendations for self-organising teams (SOT): No politics, but pragmatism. Agree on how you will communicate with each other. Take the time to understand why this topic matters to each of you. Connect around the why. Alliances: who do you need to engage? Narrate your work, communicate about it so you can attract help from additional people. Think “good enough”. Small steps. Think about something realistic you can do. Avoid paralysis by analysis. What is important is movement. Regularly reflect on how you work as a team. Try and test first ideas, dare pilot: conceive, design, launch, test, adjust/redesign, re-launch, monitor, assess, etc.
  • To conclude: revolutions start with few people. These vibrant meetings, like Together-Ensemble have to be “institutionalised” and become a normality not a breath of fresh air.

Related links

What Are Self-Organising Teams? (

Dare to Un-Lead — We Need Social – Engagement Leadership & Digital Change : alexandre gérard

Next stop: tackling disinformation!

One response to “The potential of self-organising teams”

  1. Reblogged this on Cpeanose and commented:
    Agree on how you will communicate with each other. Take the time to understand why this topic matters to each of you. Connect around the why.


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