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Self-management in ethical business.

Creating freedom, autonomy and trust at Rickshaw Travel.

Building the capacity for real self-management. 

  • Ethical travel business with offices in the UK, Netherlands and Germany

  • Developing a culture of trust, support and self-managed working

  • 12 month programme of coaching skills and action learning

The background

Organisations are increasingly recognising the need for self-management.

We realise that the old, command and control cultures seem to leave people unable to respond quickly or creatively to the pace and complexity of challenges we face.

But transformation programmes that focus on creating new structures and installing new processes often fail to realise the expected results, especially when they’re delivered at pace.

In fact the outcomes can often be negative - leaving people confused or overwhelmed and results that reflect the same.

This is because the core requirement for self-management isn’t how individual roles or teams are structured, it’s how well the human beings in the organisation can manage themselves and trust each other to do the same.

However, if you’ve ever worked in a company with a traditional management structure then this isn’t something you’ve had to do and requires a big leap for many people.

Vicky, Managing Partner at Rickshaw understands this.

Rickshaw are an ethical travel business with sister companies in The Netherlands and Germany. 

Vicky’s vision for the business has been developed with her team and includes freeing up the team to model their shared values in everything they do and giving everyone having the opportunity to lead meaningful lives at work.

She knew that implementing a new management structure wasn’t the right solution, that results would take time and that the answers lay with her managers.

What we've done

We designed a 12-month programme aimed at supporting the team leaders across the business through a journey of personal and professional change.

We knew that their ability to give their team space to make more of their own decisions was one of the key starting points if we were going to build trust and create more autonomy.

We also knew that this wouldn’t be easy for people who felt responsible for the results their team’s produced and were used to directing the work.

So we created a programme called: “Making space for your team.”  

Starting with a deep dive into what it meant to be a coach, we explored the principles and practices needed to move from managing work and trying to control outcomes to coaching people to realise shared results.

We started by uncovering what it might mean to people to let go of their current way of thinking and start to take a more ‘hands-off’ approach.

This included identifying the benefits - like being able to spend more time on the work that team leaders enjoyed or creating space for reflection and strategic thinking - as well as the less comfortable outcomes like losing a perceived sense of control.

Following this we split into small, action learning groups to practice new coaching skills and work on developing new behaviours that put more power in the hands of their teams.

Each session, individuals would report on what they’d tried out, what happened and the questions this raised for them, about themselves.

Being coached by the rest of the group, they identified what they needed to do next to stretch themselves further.

At the end of the programme, the team developed a charter for coaching at Rickshaw that will be used as an accountability tool and to support others to develop a similar approach, embedding a coaching culture in the DNA of the business.

What's happened

Through this programme we made a number of discoveries about the nature of this kind of change:

Leaders need to learn to manage themselves if we want teams with the ability to self-manage. 

When we started the programme we heard how managers were giving answers and stepping in to do the work of their team. 
As a result, this was the behaviour that was perpetuated throughout the business. By the end of our programme we saw team members taking much more responsibility because they had more space and freedom to do so.

Everyone is capable of self-management and coaching their team. 

Even (especially) the most directive managers found their way to managing their habitual responses to step in and disempower when they could see and feel why it benefited them and their teams to have more patience and ask more questions.

Work is more creative, enjoyable and impactful when there’s more autonomy and trust.

Every session the managers came to, we heard how working in this way gave them more headspace, more opportunity and more satisfaction than they’d previously had. Stepping back gave them more time to think about the work they were more experienced to do and resulted in their teams coming up with surprising and innovative responses to problems and opportunities.

Communication is everything. 

At the heart of what we did was how we communicated. Each session focused on how we listened, how we spoke and what questions we asked. Not only did this help bring better results to the work we did, it gave people a greater sense of being heard and having space to express themselves, basic needs that are often neglected but lead to lower stress levels and more connection across a business.

At some point in the future, there might be  be a need to think about job roles, remuneration and management structure. But focusing on this before equipping people with the right behavioural capacities can be counterproductive and overwhelming for them.

By focusing instead on how we are with each other, and how we think about the decisions we make, we create a more solid foundation for effective and enjoyable self-management.

When I explained to Max, that I wanted to strengthen some of the behaviours associated with “Self Management” in conjunction with our values, at Rickshaw, he completely understood.

What I didn’t say was our goal is to be a Teal Organisation or Self Managed and to this Max listened, questioned and understood, making sure he did not try to fit us into a box and instead supported us on our own unique journey.

Our goal is simple: Make Work Meaningful for all the individuals that make up our team. I feel that being true to our values and creating the right environment for them to grow has a greater chance of ensuring they are deeply rooted at Rickshaw and this would have a longer term impact.

Max recognised how critical coaching is for this journey and was able to tailor his programme to meet the varying needs of all the individuals and keep this in line with our overall business goal. To hear people refer to themselves as coaches and critically question each other when they forget is amazing and a true credit to the effort and energy Max has invested in Rickshaw.
— Vick Knight, Managing Partner