Woes and virtues of self-organisation

2 min readJan 6, 2022


We need a new operating model for managing high-performance teams.

One that doesn’t rely on top-down management.

And it isn’t tied to having everyone in the same place at the same time.

That’s where self-organisation comes in.

It’s not the same as no management.

Think of it as a collective common sense.

And ants excel at building the kind of collective intelligence that enables them to solve problems on the go without needing supervision.

Strategy professor Nathan Furr of INSEAD studied ant colonies, and he believes ants can teach us a thing or two about self-managed organisations.

Ants keep things simple.

Simple rules are fast, flexible rules of thumb. Developed based on experience, they provide some guidance on what to do, but leave room for adaptation (in a pandemic, for instance). Ideally, they offer the optimal balance between improvisation (too little structure) and bureaucracy (too much).

Ants break big problems into smaller chunks.

For ant colonies, breaking down a problem into smaller chunks allows them to build much larger nests. For us humans, modular problem solving is critical when we face complexity, an increasingly common feature of our era.

Ants build for scale.

When one ant can’t complete a task, there is another at the ready to take its place.

Self-management doesn’t replace the need for a management structure either.

While self-managed organisations are more agile at solving everyday problems.

Traditional management structures still perform better in complex and competitive environments.




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