The InterAction Collection

How can SF shape self-organisation?

A creative solution focus experiment

Aug 30, 2021

Tomas Horak, Christophe Bourgon

Introduced by John Brooker

On reading ‘Reinventing Organisations’, by Frederik Laloux, (available on Amazon), it struck me how ‘reinvented’ organisations could use Solution Focus to help achieve each breakthrough that Laloux describes:

  1. Self-management (or ‘self-organisation’ in this session)
  2. Wholeness
  3. Evolutionary purpose

By coincidence, after I read the book, Tomas Horak contacted myself and my colleague Annie Bordeleau to ask how SFiO might enable an experiment on establishing self-organising teams. The result was an SFiO online Global Chapter, led by Tomas Horak and Christophe Bourgon from Switzerland, and attended by a very international group. You can see the results in this video with a summary below.

As Tomas says with honesty in the session, “we have no idea how this experiment will turn out”. That said, he encourages participants to use their creativity and sense for exploration to gather ideas for the self-organisation journey; and they do!

Tomas and Christophe kicked off with “finding attendees’ best hopes for this co-creation experiment and the difference that would make”. You can find the output of this and other sessions in the video in a PDF of slides on the SFiO website in the InterAction Collection 2021. I summarise some of the findings below:

The three sessions

Session 1 - First ideas on how to start a journey towards self-organising

Groups considered what might be their first steps to creating self-organising teams. Recurring themes from different groups were: The need to have organisations define what:

  • ‘Self-organising’ means to them
  • The purpose for them of self-organising
  • The roles in a self-organising team

Organisations should:

  • Look for signs of self-organisation already happening in the organisation
  • Develop psychological safety for people to self-organise

Session 2 – Bring Solution Focus into play

As you will notice from the Session 1 output, people already had an SF perspective in Sessions 1, and Session 2 encouraged people to consider how they might use SF more.

What becomes clear is that the SF approach, with its constructive questions, are perfect to have teams think through what they want to achieve in terms of self-organising and how they can achieve it. The groups’ output confirms this with some additional questions that arise:

  • How does the group change composition when it needs new or different skills?
  • How will the different backgrounds and cultures of teams contribute to self-organisation?
  • How to best define the roles?
  • How to keep energy high?
  • Should a ‘consultant’ be an expert in self-organising teams or simply facilitate groups to find their way to self-organise?
  • How not to ‘force’ self-organisation? -How to use Host Leadership to introduce self-organisation

Session 3 - Focusing on the first step

Pick out the most important first step and explain how you would start a journey towards self-organisation

The groups were very practical here with ideas such as:

  • Create space for self-organisation
  • Have a coaching conversation with the customer
  • Use a simple exercise to show signs of self-organisation
  • Share emotions and how to best work together
  • Discuss signs of trust in the team - people may distrust the leader’s motives
  • Focus on the resources in the group and how they might use them to self-organise
  • Use Host Leadership

Plenary - A chance to reflect

Tomas opened the session up to attendees to reflect on the conversations they had. Reflections are:

  • Self-organisation needs time - therefore, leaders need to temper their desire for results
  • The process for effecting self-organisation is the same for any change in the organisation
  • SF practitioners make the process of change effective and efficient by focusing on what we want
  • Until people know and trust each other and feel included, our task is to build community before discussing what we are going to do together
  • Metaphors for self-organisation are a flock of birds or shoals of fish and (based on these principles) swarming drones.

The content of this video crystallises the thoughts of a number of SF practitioners on the topic of self-organisation. It provides valuable insights into how you might begin to enable teams to self-organise, and repays the time you invest in watching it.

Finally, it is inspiring that SFiO can enable people like Tomas to bring to fruition an idea they want to share with others. If you have an idea for an SF related session SFiO might enable, please feel free to contact the editors at zoom@sfio.org.

Please find the slides Tomas and Christophe showed in this pdf.


Tomas Horak
Tomas Horak
InterAction Contributor
SFiO Contributor

Tomas Horak, an SF coach for leaders, teams and organisations that want to transform their culture, linking SF, self-organisation and design thinking to explore new ways of working.

Christophe Bourgon
InterAction Contributor
SFiO Contributor

Christophe draws on a two decades track records as Chief of Staff, Head of Business Management Operations and Director of International Sales in air navigation services, homeland security and telecommunications.