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Making Self-Organization Work

This post is from Jim Highsmith .com by Jim Highsmith. Click here to see the original post in full.

Discipline without freedom is tyranny; freedom without discipline is chaos (Cullen Hightower).

Morning Star is the largest tomato processor in the United States with 400 employees and over $700 million in annual revenues. Morning Star’s CEO, Chris Rufer, built a successful company on the principle of self-management where everyone is responsible for coordinating with colleagues, customer, and suppliers absent directives from others (this story comes from management guru Gary Hamel’s recent book, What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation).

What struck me about this story, essentially about moving from a hierarchical to a networked management structure, from command-control to self-management, were the success, the benefits, and the difficulty. Self-management, or self-organization, doesn’t come easy. It’s so much more than saying, “Ok, now everyone is empowered.” It takes three distinct things to make self-organization work: Values, Accountability, and Systems. All three of these things are embedded in the Morning Star culture, and they make their success difficult to duplicate.

First, the values of self-management run deeply in Morning Star. Every...

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