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How self-organising can unleash the potential and performance even in a Hierarchy

A dialogue between a leader-Elvira and a team-member- Tünde at the HR Fest 2019 in Budapest, Hungary.

Elvira: I truly believe that we do not have to wait for a decision that the whole company has to change its way of operating. As a leader I have decision-making responsibilities- and these responsibilities (all of them, or some of them) I can hand over to my team. This means we also can decide together in which way we would like to work together. We as a team have agreed that we need to be more flexible, adaptable in our ways of working to cover all the different and diverse needs of our clients in the company. That’s how we started to find our own way towards being self-organised– and this in a highly hierarchical company at that time. And honestly, at that time – as I may quote one of the former team-members – “nobody would have thought it is possible in a company of 8500 employees to create a hub of self-organisation.”

Tünde: I have been working on the field of OD and Change management for 6 years; Elvira was my leader in Magyar Telekom in the HR People and Organisation Development Department.

Our responsibilities and tasks were highly diverse and variable all trough the year, so experimenting with flexible roles seemed the best way to utilize the competences and resources of the team. And as we were working on making the company more adaptive- we wanted to have our learning experience how is the road towards self-organisation, before we want to support other teams in the company.

How did we start?

Elvira: We started experimenting with the knowledge about Holacracy and Agile methodologies to create and continuously evolve the way we were working together.

Every organization has different parallel realities and as of today we are mostly aware of 3 different ones:

- the power structure- where your position counts most

- the informal structure- where your network has a value,

- and the value-creating reality- where your work reputation matters most.

As we believed the company would benefit from focusing more on the value-creating reality over the power structure, the models that do this, like Holacracy seemed a good model to start experimenting with.

Holacracy is one of the models that focuses more on the value-creating reality, and instead of the leaders, here the Purpose and a hierarchy of Purposes lead. Instead of the positions here there are roles, and each individual can move between roles and fulfil more than one role at a time.

- Regular tactical meetings support to align and monitor the fulfilment of the commonly agreed goals with the focus on what we are doing.

- Regular governance meetings/retrospectives/where the focus is on how we did things, what can we learn from them and how can we do thing differently- supporting the creation of new agreements.

We did not take off the shelf the model and implemented it but we started to use of Holacracy what we felt was needed in order to make ourselves more productive and answer the high demand of our services. We created our own way to work together and evolved it together during the 4 years.

1. The voluntary sign up to tasks and projects

Elvira: The first step for us was a voluntary signing up for projects and tasks. Take a demand that come in, sign up based on your time, where can you best contribute with your competencies or where can you learn the most.

At the beginning everyone had a topic assigned to herself and only the newly arriving assignments were shared like this via an e-mail group, but soon every project and topic you could sign up yourself.

Tünde: This motivated me as a junior professional very much. I could take tasks that were interesting to me and offered the opportunity to learn more. This made me super motivated and engaged.

Of course it had its challenges also. Some team-members always took the high visibility projects. Others only focused on their learning opportunities. Let’s be honest- not all HR tasks are motivating. Some took the martyr role and Friday evening the last tasks landed always with them. What was my learning from this? It is not worth always saving the team and spending my weekends with tasks others could have done too. We had to talk about these patterns and learn from them as a team.

2. Team instead of individual responsibility

Elvira: Our other big step was moving from individual to shared responsibility. As a first step we introduced working in pairs, inviting others based on the expertise and learning goals of the individual of simply to have a shared working experience. As our projects were growing it was not enough to find people who can support you- we needed a team to work on them. This is where Holacracy and the idea of Circles came in.

This process took us 3-4 years, with a team growing from 10 to 35 people, with uncountable number of topics, projects belonging to us. Not just the size and responsibility of the team grow but the scope of our projects too and they required a team to work on them instead of individuals or pairs. So we organized ourselves into rapidly changing Circles.

Our agreement was that one individual can only belong to 2 circles, and be lead only in one, and 20% of everyone’s time can be dedicated to a Love Project to support self-realisation.

Tünde: So how was it working in the Circles?

Its pros were:

· the amount of reinforcement from the circle members were unbelievable. Every Circle meeting started with success stories of the Circle Members.

· we have had less 1:1 meetings with our leader. As we were already over 20 people I m sure she was relived by the time pressure this took off her shoulder.

· if we had questions, we asked the circle members and most decisions we could make in the Circle. When it needed the whole team- it went to a bi-weekly team meeting. The 1:1 with the leader become the point of sharing individual ambitions, learning goals and it was more a mixture of coaching-mentoring. Our leader finally had time to take a breath.

There were some challenges too:

· it was difficult to let go of my favourite projects, task just because I was needed more in a different project.

· we had to manage our own time and resources: I could take on new tasks or give them away based on my on capacity. But to give it away I had to find someone to willingly take it from me: this has thought me how to sell these tasks:-)

3. Team-meetings about successes

Elvira: What is a team meeting about, is a crucial give away of the culture. We had the team members talking 80% of the time- mainly about their success stories or achievements since the last meeting.

Instead of project statuses in the beginning the team member’s individual, later the Circles’ achievements, successes, learning were filling the team meeting. This way the whole team was well informed and we could align our activities. In our Circles not just our team members worked, but other teams, areas from HR and the Business. The Circle meetings included them as well.

Tünde:This was a great platform to share our own developments, learning, prides and we got so addicted to it, that it became our everyday habit to reinforce each other till we could create a new Performance Motivation tool also for the whole company to embark on the road of the culture of Recognition.

4.Resource-focused reinforcement

Elvira:For me it was very important that in the team everybody has the experience of continuous learning and development- so I only used positive reinforcement with the team. After a while the bug caught the whole team too. We had a very special way to welcome new team members: we did not let them introduce themselves to the team, instead we had a round of what do we know already about or what can we imagine why will be the person a very important and useful part of this team. We also did not introduced ourselves, but other team members shared with the newcomer in which cases he should turn to whom (what are the expertise of the person). This comes from my Solution Focused background.

Tünde: It was very uplifting to hear what my teammates think I am an expert in, weather I m a senior or a junior member of a team. Elvira thought us everyone is senior in something and junior in something else.

5. Introduction of the OKR System

Elvira: The biggest step forward us was the introduction of the OKR system (Objectives and Key Results). From having focuses and priorities to move to having very clear and commonly agreed picture of what each Circle is responsible to deliver in a given time and based on this re-shuffle the people and sign up to where they are needed most was huge.

Our Circles were created around these Objectives. When the Objectives changed, the Circles changed too. The Key Results made the road and actions towards the Objectives measurable and tangible and gave the opportunity to the Circle members to have a shared responsibility on delivering them and figuring out if the actions planned will be not enough, make decisions and drive the Circle towards Impact instead of Action focus.

Tünde: The Objectives and Key Results were defined together with the team and the leader. The leader’s role was to represent what the Company and her leaders expected from us and we had to make sure we only commit to what we believe is possible to achieve. As a result of one of such a negotiation we agreed to reach out to at least to a 1000 employees in one of our projects. We had an intranet article about the topic, but we had to realize not enough people have read it, signed up to our quiz and presentations. So we had a clear signal that we have to come up with a new action in order to reach the agreed Key Result.


We have only five ingredients towrds self-organisation in this post:

1. The voluntary sign up to tasks and projects- so everyone can contribute where her competencies are best utilised or where she can learn the most

2. Team instead of individual responsibility- to build a team spirit and make sure the team takes responsibility for its actions

3. Team-meetings about successes- to build cohesion, bring the soul into the interactions (what Holacracy was missing for us)

4. Resource-focused reinforcement- to make sure professional confidence continuously grows

5. Introduction of the OKR System- to pin down the impact we want to have instead of topics to work on.

The good news is, that you can pick and choose from this menu and start with any of these to experiment with as of today. Enjoy the learning and let us know how it worked for you!


About our journey towards self-organisation and the solution focused leadership tools (that we did not focus on in this blog post) we have used you can learn more on our 3 hour interactive Webinar (

The organization design and development knowledge behind it is packed into our Native in Change 8 month program. Check out our website:

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