Beyond self-management

Download the PDF Beyond Self-management here, or read the full story below.

Motivation and Laloux

Self-management is hot. By now almost everybody knows that complex environments require working in self-directed teams and there is an increasing interest in self-managing organizations You’ve probably seen the talk by Frederic Laloux:

or have read his book “Reinventing Organizations”.

The downside of working in a self-steering team

Working in a self-managing team is not only positive, it is also complex: in self-managing teams, people often lose control of their boundaries1, the pressure to perform increases2 and discussions and co-operation become more complicated3.

This puts pressure on self-managing teams. Worst case scenario the team ends up in a downward spiral: the stress increases, “System 1” – thinking increases and the quality of decisions decreases. Risk increases and the stress is further increased – until management intervenes and the experiment is declared a failure.

Team members who develop their consciousness, are better at coping with the pressures of selfsteering. The extent to which you develop – the developmental stage you are in- determines the upper limit of complexity that you can deal with, without feeling overwhelmed. There is a clear correlation between the stage of development and effectiveness. Therefore, personal development is at the heart of self-management.

Self-management is personal growth

  • In the first chapter of this paper, I substantiate my statement with theory on the developmental stages of adults.
  • Then I will discuss individual development and the opportunities for growth that occur in the workplace.
  • In the main part of this paper, I describe practical methods that can help to promote personal growth at work.
  • Then I describe two methods that require support. I end with something about myself and my personal development.

Later this spring I will post part 2, on development in teams.
I hope you enjoy the read!

1 Effectory

2 Harvard Business Review

3 Rotterdam School of Management

1. Self, wholeness and evolutionary purpose: from the development of organisations to the development of people.

Laloux ‘”Reinventing Organizations” is based on the work of Ken Wilber. At the base of Wilber’s work is “all quadrants” or an integral view in which all phenomena are simultaneously viewed in 4 ways.

Wilbur Quadrants

The work of Laloux is focussed on thinking about organizing, on the right side of the model. There is less attention for the ‘interior’ to the left and the upper left quadrant remains undiscussed. People develop through the same phases (or colors) that are discussed in the video. And like organizations, more developed people can handle more complexity.

Below I’ll describe the development phases of adults – the upper left quadrant of Wilber’s model as concisely as possible. I’ll use the phases of Kegan, because he describes the phases most crisp.

The appendix contains an overview of the different models.

Developmental stages of individuals

Unlike organizations, all human beings start on the same level: Everyone is born at level 0 (or beige) and grows, step-by -step, to the next stage. The higher the stage, the more complex consciousness is. And this complexity of consciousness correlates with the level of complexity that people can handle in their lives and in their work.

Probably the most compact way to illustrate this is by Kegan’s 3 plateaus in the development of adults.4

I leave aside the earlier phases , because it is unlikely that people at that level of development are operating in a self-managing team.

The socialized mind
(Wilber and Laloux’s Blue, Kegan’s Phase 3,)

  • In this phase we are shaped by the definitions and expectations of our personal environment
  • Our self coheres by its alignment with, and loyalty to, that with which it identifies
  • This sense of self can express itself primarily n our relationships with people, with schools of thought (ideas and beliefs) or both

The Self-authoring mind
(Wilber and Laloux’s Orange to Green, (Kegan’s stage 4)

  • Here we are able to step back enough from the social environment to generate an internal seat of judgement, or personal authority, that evaluates and makes choices about external expectations.
  • Our self coheres by alignement with its own belief system, ideology or personal code, by its ability to self-direct, take stands, set limits, create and regulate its boundaries on behalf of its own voice.

Self-transcending mind
(Wilber and Laloux’s Green and Teal, Kegan’s stage 5)

  • We can step back from and reflect on the limits of our own ideology or person authority, see that any one system of self-organization is in some way partial or incomplete, be friendlier toward contradiction and opposites , seek to hold on to multiple systems.
  • Our self coheres by the ability not to confuse internal consistency with wholeness or completeness, and through its alignement with the dialectic rather than either pole.

In each successive phase, there is more distance between the self and what we identify with, which we coincide with. From the Self-authoring mind on, we no longer are our relationships with people or schools of thought, we have relationships with people or schools of thought. These have become an object and objects can be explored, you can make choices them. In every phase the self becomes more aware, can make more choices.

The problems faced by people in self-managing teams are the result of a gap between their current level of development and what is required in a self-directed team. Self-management requires a self authoring mind, maybe even a self-transforming mind.

4 An Everyone Culture, Kegan

The correlation between developmental stages (individual mental complexity- the numbers on the horizontal axes represent Kegan’s stages of development) and effectiveness (business effectiveness) is shown in this figure5.

Individual mental complexity

Developmental stages of adults: where are we now?

Two large meta-studies show the majority of adults (58%) has not yet developed to the self authoring level (Orange – Green)6.

In both studies, higher educated professionals are over-represented, the level of development in the whole population could be lower.

Graphic display of Self-management

5 K. Eigel, Leader Effectiveness

6 Kegan, An Everyone Culture

As nearly 60% of adults have not yet reached the Orange or Green stage, you and I may very well not have developed to that level yet. If our work requires a higher level of development than we have achieved, we and the team are in over our heads…

The process of growth

The process of growth to the next stage is becoming more and more aware of yourself. Our unexamined, unconscious beliefs have a strong influence on our perception of the world – of others and of the opportunities we see. By examining those beliefs, ideas, assumptions and theories, new possibilities come to light, with which we can contain an increasing degree of complexity and handle it

Personal development seems to be a relevant theme for people in self-managing teams. This does not require programs or central interventions: development can not be implemented, its something you go through together. It is possible for organizations and teams to support the development of people (more on that in part 2). Development is largely a do it yourself-affair and growth happens in small steps.

Information about developmental stages

  • “A Brief History of Everything”, Ken Wilber, pages 171 to 285 about development stages
  • “The evolving self,” “In over our heads” and “An everyone Culture”, Robert Kegan
  • “Spiral Dynamics. Values, leadership and change in a dynamic model, “Beck, Edward and Cowan.

2. Developing as an individual

Work as an opportunity for development

Work provides plenty of opportunities to grow to the next stage of consciousness. If you work – and especially if you work in a self-managing team- you will encounter signals indicating the limit of your current development on a daily basis: positive experience, success, failure, conflict, tension, rambling meetings, uncomfortable feelings and commitments you do not realize. These are all excellent opportunities to explore, to learn and grow.

There are tools you can use to do that research solo, although that is hard. When things get tensive, it is often difficult to have enough distance to investigate the situation. That’s often easier together, with a like-minded, development-oriented colleague or -even better- with a group of colleagues.

Tools for solo use

  1. Examining pleasant experiences
  2. Stress and fast&slow thinking
  3. Exploring conflict and anger
  4. Getting stuck on your goals
  5. Exploring anxiety, uncertainty and fear
  6. Rambling meetings: detecting defensive patterns
1. Examining Pleasant experiences
Analyzing succes

A pleasant, positive way to grow is to analyze your successes to determine what you are good at, so your can do even more of it.

  1. Describe a personal peak experience. What was the most valuable, exciting and instructive for you? Can you explain why it was such a peak experience for you? Describe the event in detail.
  2. Can you, without being modest, say what you appreciate especially in yourself, your work and your organization?
  3. What do you think is the core value or nuclear factor that gives life to the organization and your work? What makes up who you are, without which you would be a very different person?
  4. If you could make three wishes for your organization, your work and for yourself, what would they be?
Using strengths

Another way is to use your strengths more often. At the PEN University website you will find the VIA tetst of character strengths and a short document with 340 ways to use Character strengths.

PEN University test center
2. Utilizing less pleasant experiences: stress and thinking fast&slow

Unpleasant experiences are very suitable to further personal development and dealing with unpleasant experiences is not easy. The stress of the experience affects your thinking and makes it difficult to make conscious choices.

There are two ways we think, a fast and a slow method7.

The fast method (System 1) is based on intuition and without direct control from consciousness. This method offered evolutionary advantage, for example to quickly decide to flee or fight. This method of thinking is quite error prone and is activated automatically under stress.

The slow method (System 2) is driven from the consciousness, using reason and calculation rules. This system requires more effort and more energy, is more reliable than system 1 and suitable for complex decisions. System 1 is the “daily mode”, the system that we usually use to come to a decision.

7 Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

System 1 is not controlled by consciousness, so it’s no good thinking system for personal development. After all, you grow by becoming more aware.

Unpleaseant experiences

On system 1’s “autopilot” it makes sense to try to get rid of discomfort, shame and fear as quickly as possible. If you can tolerate the discomfort just a little longer, you can examine and explore the situation.

Moving from System 1 to System 2

To turn your awareness back on, the first step is to get some distance from your (fast) thinking. This can be done by moving your attention to your body. Where exactly in your body you feel stress, anger or fear? How does it feel precisely? And if you continue to observe, does it change or remain the same? Does it get bigger, smaller, different?

You may find it useful to use spoken instructions. I have good experiences with this CD:
yoga nidra meditation extreme relaxation conscious

Another way to switch back to System 2 is to focus on your breathing: what parts of your body expand when you inhale and go back flat as you exhale? Is that the same in the next breath or not? And if there is a difference, what is it exactly?

It often takes some time to switch from system 1 and there is a big advantage. Once you have landed in system 2, you can examine the beliefs, ideas, assumptions and theories underlying the discomfort. That will bring new possibilities to light.

3. Exploring conflict and anger

Conflict and anger signal that you’re on the edge of the current development. A practical way to explore conflict in 3 steps (after moving from system 1 to system 2):

Step 1: conflict and anger are often a sign of an unmet need or a value that has been violated. Which need or value is it about?

Overview of needs

Step 2: Examine what assumptions you hold about the conflict. Example: I assumed he did not listen to me.

Step 3: what positive interpretation of the situation or the person could also be true?

Hopefully you’ll feel a bit more distance from your anger and feel you have some choices about how to respond. You might consider communicating the deeper needs and values that have been violated, or use step 2 as the start of a discussion to test your beliefs and assumptions before deciding on next steps.

4. Getting stuck on your improvement goals

Another development-opportunity occurs when you don’t seem to be able to implement your goals for personal improvement even if you know that they would greatly improve your situation. This stuck-ness can not be solved by applying willpower, it requires an adaptive change: a change in how you see. A practical tool is the Immunity to change method of Kegan: a structured 4 step process that provides clarity on the problem itself: the unconscious parts of yourself that undermine change and growth. A new level of conscious understanding paves the way for a solution.

The ICT method is easy to apply, solo, together with a colleague or a coach or in a team

You can find the template below.

The book “Immunity to Change is for sale at any online bookstore.

Immunity to change
5. Exploring anxiety, uncertainty and fear

At the edge of your development you’ll encounter anxiety, uncertainty and fear. It is difficult to deal with anxiety and because the feeling can be so strong, the first step could be to gain some distance. You could allow your attention to to your body. Where exactly in your body do you feel fear? How does it feel exactly? And if you continue to observe, does it change or remain the same? Does it get bigger, smaller, different?

You can use the schedule that was discussed in the paragraph about anger and conflict. What do you think you might lose? How likely is it to happen? And if it happens, what action could you take?

Another way is to investigate the core of your anxiety, what fear is underneath, at the core of your anxiety.

  • The common core fears:
  • Fear of being imperfect
  • Fear of not being loved or appreciated
  • Fear of not being valued
  • Fear of not being unique and important
  • Fear of being incompetent
  • Fear of being alone or without support
  • Fear of being deprived
  • Fear of being controlled
  • Fear of losing peace of mind

The TED Talk “Turning Fear into Fuel” provides another method to cope with anxiety.

Tools to use together

All instruments listed for solo use, are more effective when used together with a colleague or a team. For the next tool you need a meeting.

6. Rambling meetings?
Detect the defensive patterns.

Defensive patterns occur in almost any meeting. If it gets tensive -if you are on the edge of your current development- system one is activated. You’ll probably go on autopilot and try to “keep it under control.” That gets in the way of innovation and growth. Defensive patterns are a sign of discomfort, and where there is discomfort there is an opportunity for growth.

To use defensive patterns for your development, you can explore -preferably with a colleague or team- what your part is in the occurrence of the pattern, what is under the pattern and how you could use that as an opportunity for development. An overview of defensive strategies:

  • Dodging: If the approach / behavior is not effective, put the blame on circumstances and / or others.
  • Reducing: if the situation is uncomfortable, you reduce the problem until it becomes manageable.
  • Go plural: Keep the conversation aloof by talking about ‘our responsibility’ and ‘what we should do.
  • Dissociate: if the conversation gets too close, change the subject to others or general observations, such as the employees, middle management or organization.
  • Non-intervention: do not address other’s ineffectiveness, so they won’t address yours.
  • Humor: if the situation is uncomfortable or threatening, make a joke and change the subject
Solo exploration of your defensive patterns: “Mind the gap

Defensive strategies emerge on autopilot – unconsciously – when things gets tensive. It is difficult to be aware when you become entangled in a defensive pattern. If you do want to get more clarity on your defensive patterns, you could try to be be aware of the ‘gaps’.

  • Gaps may arise between:
  • what you do and what you say
  • what you feel and what you say
  • what you say at the coffee machine and what you say in the meeting
  • how you assess someone’s performance at the time and how you later provide feedback you
  • what you know about the organization’s principles and how you apply them, etc.

Information on defensive strategies:

  • “Doorbreek de cirkel”, Arend Ardon (available in Dutch only)
  • Article “Organizations get stuck too” Bill Chritchly and David Casey: PDF Organizations get stuck too

Tools used with a coach or facilitator

The tools in the previous chapter can be used solo, with colleagues, in a team, with and without external support. The two instruments below are very helpful and require working with a coach or facilitator.

Exploring where you are: Subject Object Interview

The subject object interview (SOI) is a 1.5 hour conversation which explores how you make meaning, what the structure (phase) of your experiences is. In a SOI the conversation is about recent positive and negative experiences. The interview is fun to do and helps explore the boundaries of your consciousness. In the traditional application, an expert analyzes the conversation and will tell you about your phase of development( Kegan). I think it makes more sense to to analyze together and use that analysis as a tool for further development.


Laloux mentions coaching as a way to help individuals and teams in their growth. The most important predictor of success is the coaching relationship (De Haan), the “chemistry” is important in selecting a coach. I think it makes sense to choose a coach who has knowledge of the development of adults. So they can support the expression of the emerging phase, and avoid becoming a co-conspirator of the defensive balance of the previous phase.

My own development

On the edge of my development lies my hesitation to seek cooperation at an early stage, when the idea is still an idea, before I figured out precisely how I want to move on. As a next step I want to “gamify” the Subject Object Interview: create a serious game that enables people to explore the edges of their own development, individually or with colleagues.

Would you like to team-up, co-write a better version of this article or the next one, or work together on the design and distribution of tools for personal development?

Please do contact me!

Please feel free to contact me if you have any feedback, remarks or queries, if you want some sparring or want to explore if my support could be of use to you.

Leonie de Vree

06 50692091

Appendix developmental models

Small integral spiral of developmental waves Kegan developmental phases
  • Kegan’s fase 3 “Socialized mind” corresponds to Blue
  • Fase 4 “Self-authoring mind” corresponds to Orange and Green
  • Fase 5 “Self-transforming mind” corresponds to Green and Teal
Laloux organizational phases Graves spiral dynamics

4 March 2017 | Published by Leonie de Vree