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Human Needs as a Starting Point for Self-organisation

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Author: Reinhard Wagner     Source: LinkedIn
Some time ago, Professor Oswald Neuberger from the University of Augsburg coined a statement that is still valid today. He said that there is often talk of people being the focus of attention, but most of the time people are just used as a means. With the hype about self-organization as new form of organization for agile enterprises or project work, it is all too often forgotten that the driving force for self-organization is the motivation of people, without which nothing happens. In discussions about agile forms of organization, it is often argued that people's mindsets need to be adapted so that they "work better" in the sense of the organization. However, this completely ignores the view of the people involved. Only what is right in terms of the organization, its management or the management approach is considered. However, the prerequisites for real self-organization are not given, which is why the following will explain what really drives people and how this can lead to self-organization...

The two psychologists Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci, in a ground-breaking work on human self-determination (see the references below), put forward the thesis that human autonomy or self-determination is primarily determined by intrinsic motivation and internalization. The "true self" emerges in a dynamic process over the years, in a confrontation with oneself, through the ongoing comparison between self-imposed goals and what has been achieved, as well as the manifold interactions with the context someone is in.

According to Ryan and Deci, three needs are decisive for human beings: 1. autonomy, 2. connectivity and 3. competence. The first need of man has a special meaning. It is important for us to be able to decide freely what we do, how we do it and with whom. The feeling of being able to go to work with one's own readiness and willingness is immensely motivating and releases undreamt-of powers in human beings. The opposite, i.e. dependent employment and foreign control has exactly the opposite effect. Now one could of course object that this need is very selfish and would lead to chaos in organizations. This is where the second need comes in, the search of human beings for relatedness with other people as well as with their immediate environment (including nature, technology, society). Being related is expressed in the need to be perceived and respected by others in the environment and to perceive, respect and interact with others. In other words: it is simply more fun with others and synergies are created in the team. The third need of human beings is one of competence to do things effectively, to be effective (alone and with others) and to have the knowledge and experience necessary to accomplish tasks. One could also call this need "self-efficacy".

If we are able to live out these needs in a given situation, we feel strengthened, motivated for more and integrate the learning experiences better into our repertoire for acting in complex situations. In their research, Ryan and Deci have found that people who have a positive experience about these three needs can further increase their intrinsic motivation, are healthier and experience their work as meaningful. On the other hand, the opposite effect can be observed in the case of external determination, subordination in a hierarchical organisation or dependent employment. People are demotivated, live out their motivation outside of the work environment and are more often sick or even burnout.     

If self-organisation is to be made possible in a company, then it is better to deal with the needs of those involved, to see them as a starting point for true self-organisation and not to try to influence the "functioning" of people from outside, i.e. from outside. If, however, the leadership succeeds in leaving enough room for manoeuvre for true self-organisation, this will have a positive effect on those involved. They experience a positive reinforcement and literally grow beyond themselves.

Source: Ryan, Richard M; Deci, Edward L. (2018): Self-Determination. Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness. The Guilford Press, New York/London 
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