Demonstrate Self Organization in Less Than 10 Minutes

Here’s a quick exercise to quickly demonstrate the beauty of self organization. 

All you need is a team of people. Any number between 5-30 people works very well with this exercise.
Purpose: The purpose of this exercise is to highlight the power of self organization, compared to managing people; demonstrate that the most important knowledge is within individuals, and mostly hidden from the eye.


Ask for a volunteer. Once selected, tell the volunteer that he is the manager for the exercise.
The task for the manager is that each member of the team will pick two people in the room – not the two right next or right opposite to them.
Then the manager’s next task is that each team member will stand at equal distance from the people he or she chose.
The manager can accomplish this task in any way he sees fit.
Ask the manager if he accepts the task.
Time-box this to 5 minutes (it feels like half a lifetime in realtime).
Ask the group to applaud the manager, and ask him to join the team.

Now tell the team that you are going to repeat the exercise:
Ask each team member to pick two new teammates – again not the ones right next or right opposite him or her. This time don’t tell anyone who you chose.
Next ask team members to stand in equal distance to the two persons the chose – but we’ll make it more difficult this time – now without any talking.
Typically this ends within 30-90 seconds.


  • Ask the team what has happened? What was difficult for the manager to get the team organized?
  • What happened in the second round that is worked so quick? Reassure the team that this has been replicated many times
  • If someone says it’s because of the team’s experience ask: What if we switched the order round?
  • Ask the team: where was the most accurate data? With the manager or with the team? How can we apply this kind of thinking to our daily work?

Typically the second round is much quicker then the first. Rarely it will be the opposite. 
Some possible surprises, and suggested ways to deal with them:

  • Sometimes the manager tells the team: Organize yourselves, or just stand in equal distance from the people you chose.
    In that case you can praise the manager that he “ruined” your exercise by doing the right thing.
  • Sometimes there are multiple iterations in the second round spanning several minutes. Maybe people will be talking and giving orders to other team members. 
    Be patient. Remind them to stay silent, and trust the process.
    In the debriefing, ask the team: Indeed it took longer. And in the process, is the knowledge of organizing still with just one manager? Or with the entire team – so the learning is shared.

Feel free to ask me further questions on how to facilitate this.

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