Self-Management and Management Plasticity

Self-Directed Teams
Knowledge Center


Hong Sun
Management Consultant, Canada

Self-Management and Management Plasticity

Management plasticity is a concept derived from the term "neuroplasticity" in neuroscience—the ability of human brains to self-organize and form new links, to self-heal from injuries, and to adapt and learn—which allows the brains to make new discoveries and find structural connections between disparities. The practice of management plasticity in organizations is in the form of self-managing principles in combination with a self-organizing network structure that unleashes the "neuroplasticity" potential in people and allows them to develop and connect, self-improve and evolve, innovate and lead.

The problem with traditional management principles (often based on rigid budgets and hierarchical control principles) is their underlying assumption that human brains are predictable and controllable, which is completely at odds with the indisputable fact that human brains are probably the most complex adaptive living systems on Earth. Consequently, when command-and-control management is applied in organizations, we observe a whole slew of business maladies that are inflicted on them—communication obstacles, operational inefficiencies, employee disengagement, and lack of innovation and leadership, all at the cost of the organizations' long-term development capability and sustainable profitability.

In a traditional command-and-control hierarchical structure, employees' cognitive capacity—the ability to think clearly and to create new understandings and connections—is impaired due to the lack of autonomy and right to act with integrity. Conversely, in a self-organizing autonomous structure where employees can think and act freely, their brains' desirable potentials are set free and stimulated to learn, connect, and innovate. These differences in the two opposite systems are presented at both individual and organizational levels.

In order to meet the ever evolving demands in the new economic settings, today's organizations have to shift their structure into a more organic, flexible, agile one that is essentially a network of self-organizing individuals and self-managing teams.

Their organization is growing towards a living system that mutates, adapts, and evolves with business environmental changes all by itself with dexterity. Their organizations operate with few to zero traditional managers and can thrive, flourish, and shine in today's VUCA world as long as the employees are properly equipped with following rights and freedoms:

1. Resources (including information, fund, and tools).
2. Incentives (of gaining strong influences in hierarchies of competency that are reflected in individual multidisciplinary expertise; in business results including quality, efficiency, and profitability; and in ethical conducts that build long-term relationships).
3. Accountability (responsibility of realizing the business goals individually and company-wide).

Provided with these appropriate resources, incentives, and accountability, employees can mostly manage themselves, including (but not limited to):

  • Setting goals, forming plans, and implementing the plans (including acquiring the necessary resources);
  • Taking ownership of the result;
  • Continuously improving themselves by learning from and helping each other spontaneously;
  • Self-evaluating and peer-evaluating in a fair, transparent way; and
  • Getting rewarded, also fairly and transparently based on their level of expertise, collaboration, and contribution to adding value to the organization.
  • Source:
    Roosli, F., Sonntag, M., & Kirkpatrick D. (2015). Management Plasticity: Neural networking as the organizing principle for enterprise architecture to unfold human potential and creativity.


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