Leadership in self-organized systems – squaring the circle or a new kind of responsibility?


The current changes in society – in particular the globalization, demographic trends or changes on the labour market – has far-reaching implications as to how we live and work together.


The current changes in society – in particular the globalization, demographic trends or changes on the labour market – has farreaching implications as to how we live and work together. Common social problems, for instance, are becoming evermore complex and new problematic situations are arising continuously. And with the cuts in the social sector and the increasing demand for efficiency and effectiveness the overall conditions are worsening Faced with these developments, social security systems are increasingly pushed to the limit and are forced to redefine their remit. This is especially true for the so called «helping professions», for example healthcare, pedagogy or social work (Uebelhart & Zängl, 2013).

There has also been the issue of crowding-out processes in the social sector, which needs to be taken in account. It can be observed, for example in elderly care or immigrant services, that large, mostly internationally-operating enterprises, are increasingly receiving performance contracts from the government. Regarding the overload within the sector, it is apparent that the established structures and historically-evolved market positions of social service organizations are eroding. Some fields have reached a tippingpoint, at which social service professions and their organizations can no longer sufficiently and certainly not on their own care for their clients (Muoio & Karmali, 2016; Sakarya, Muzaffer, Yildirim-Öktem, & Selekler-Göksen, 2012; Shier & Handy, 2016)

In this context responsible leadership in Organizations means being able to successfully address on the one hand economical, social, societal goals and, on the other hand, provide a working environment, which enables employees, customers or clients and other stakeholders (e.g. those how provide resources of all types) to have an impact on the development of the organization (e.g. Schedler & Rüegg-Stürm, 2014).

In the current discussion about local, regional or global problems we have to find answers to at least two questions within the context of developing organizations:

  1. How should we build up organizations so that they are able to withstand or handle these challenges?
  2. And how can we define the role of leadership in these organizations?

First we will discuss the concept of responsibility. We will then describe the different dilemmas for organizations in particular in the social sector. Based on the model of “Evolutionary Organizations” according to Frederic Laloux (2014), we will critically discuss the possibilities for organizations in the social sector for a responsible leadership.

The concept of responsibility and who is responsible for what

For the sociologist Max Weber (1992), responsibility of action is the most important criterion for its legitimacy. This requires a minimum of attitudes (ethics of thought) and, in addition, a necessary degree of sense (responsibility ethics). As a result, responsibility has two – an individual and social – side. We are responsible for the development of our world; everyone on her or his level. This is very well illustrated by the UN’s development goals: The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were valid from 2000 to 2015, had already dealt with ecology and equality. Their focus was on combating poverty and hunger, improving education and health for all. In general, they were successful in their implementation: the number of the extremely poor has halved since the UN agenda was announced; Not least because of China’s economic boom. Child mortality fell sharply, and the number of children attending at least elementary school increased. In June 2013, the United Nations therefore decided in Rio that sustainability targets should replace the MDGs. The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are intended to combine an economically, socially and ecologically sustainable development. The implementation of the now 17 goals and 169 sub-goals for a better world is voluntary. Each state is left to do what it wants to do in order to achieve its aims. In practice this means: which of the goals a state prioritizes, whether it does anything at all, and which it neglects. Ultimately, the success of the target-setting is crucial whether states and the private sector will give enough money and whether they will really pursue the development goals with commitment. The SDGs mark a claim in which it demands the assumption of responsibility at all levels.

These are almost unsolvable tasks for enterprises and, above all, for their acting people. They have to react to all possible trends and megatrends – for instance the consequences of globalization, the changes in the workforce, the demographic change, the erudition of values, new paradigms like inclusion and many more.

Theses challenges applies not only to so-called economic enterprises; But social enterprises are also subject to this increased competitive pressure.

On the level of the so-called quasi-market of the social sector (see the theory of quasi- markets: Le Grand & Bartlett, 1993 and Brandsen, 2004, and Trube & Wohlfahrt, 2000 and Bode, 2005), massive changes are obvious: government tasks and expenditures for social services have been cut and competition is intensified. In addition there are increasing market shares of commercial suppliers in the social sector and not least quality and prices are becoming the most important competitive factors (cf. detailed Zängl 2015). These were starting points for necessary change processes in organizations in order to react to social and market trends, for example:

  • Companies and enterprises have to been understood as learning systems
  • Services an products are more the result of cooperative activities and depending

less on the activity of one single and autonomous organization

  • Effectiveness and efficiency are becoming more a core element in the quality discussion
  • We need new, different and multiple forms of Leadership approaches
  • Lifelong learning for all professionals including executives are becoming a need

and a standard

  • And the our controlling activities are increasingly effect-oriented

Challenges that matter (in social economy)

Responsible leadership in social sector organisations is on the horns of at least three dilemmas:

– The quandaries of its different mandates.

– The double-binds of rationality

– The antagonism between loose and tight coupling

The quandaries of the different mandates

Social work, understood as a sub-system of modern society, deals with “scientifically well-founded certain social problems of functional differentiation“ (Sommerfeld 2003, p.11). The focus lies on problems of inclusion and exclusion of persons or groups „who cannot cope with their social living conditions, who fail in their individual coping with life, who have only very limited participation in society and are threatened or affected by permanent social exclusion“ (Sommerfeld 2003, P.11). This understanding of the task presupposes that the „objective“ circumstances (living conditions) as well as the „subjective“ framework (lived-in world) must be the focus of preventive and / or curative social work (Uebelhart & Zängl, 2012, p. 99). The design of care systems in the social environment of these people is the focus of political and social work interventions (see Schneider & Minnig, 2011).

The tasks resulting from these claims are described in the definition of the International Federation of Social Workers as follows: „It promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and empowerment and liberation of people to strengthen wellbeing. Based on theories on human behaviour and social systems, social work takes place where people interact with their environment. The foundations of human right social justice are essential to social work „(see IFSW, 2012). As a result, professional and managerial staff are fully committed to their clientele, according to the triple mandate of social work (see Staub-Bernasconi, 1995), to the state and its own code, which is based on the human rights treaty. As a result, social work, whether public or private, can not be satisfied with the provision of individual, isolated services, both in terms of territoriality and equal rights. As an advocate of its clientele, it must increasingly interfere with social and political decision-making processes. The social work agenda, which has grown out of this, is almost impossible to fulfil its complex mandate, since there are some extreme conflicts between the mandates. It is not always „good“ for the client or the client to be „right“ in the sense of the social-state mandate. The provision of social aid can compete with the social policy objective. Examples include: Uninstructed stabilizing effects of poor development due to social work in the form of training dependencies and misguides, unwanted promotion of procurement criminality in the fight against individual addiction problems or the stabilization of poverty constellations through poor care.

The human rights mandate with the objective perspective of social justice is not, in itself, conflict-free. The question of social justice can be answered differently depending on the understanding of justice. Uebelhart and Zängl point out ,“what virtues are rewarded and what kind of life should be promoted by a human society. Nowadays, we are more concerned about how the fruits of prosperity or the burdens of the economic crisis are to be distributed, and how to determine the fundamental rights of the citizens. In these areas, the majority of considerations are dominated by public welfare and individual freedom. Only what was previously defined as equitable is justified. „(Uebelhart & Zängl, 2015) What is regarded as socially just is a process of negotiation and not least a question of power.

What follows from the competing mandates of social work? First of all, it can be said that the field of social work is characterized in two senses; Firstly by ambiguities in relation to their objectives and secondly by uncertainty as to their effect. The multitude of purposes, interests and goals leads inevitably to an often unclear and sometimes chaotic culture of decision-making processes in social-economic organizations. Uncertainty exists, in particular, for social work in the attribution of the effects of social aid on human development and education processes (see „technology deficit“). These circumstances can be reduced, but cannot be eliminated, depending on methods; Any other expectation of the „efficiency of methods is in the tendency to self-deception“ (see Galuske 2003, p. 60).

Ambiguity and uncertainty in the task and effect of social work leads to complex decision-making situations for a responsible leadership in which categories are not right / wrong or true / false, but can only be found in the respective context of the decision, inappropriate / appropriate and reasonable / unreasonable. And even more or differentiated information would not necessarily be relevant to decisions, or would at most increase the ambiguity in the decision-making process.

The double-binds of rationality

Executives in social organizations are subject to high pressure in decision-making. Their decisions should be made as rational as possible, e.g., reasonably, deliberately and purposefully, in consideration of the use of funds to achieve the goal. But just about what can be understood as the rationality of decisions, each group of social workers has its own specific rules of interpretation. An economic rationality primarily refers to efficient and effective use of resources, political rationality asks for appropriate means for the achievement of power, and social rationality refers to the realization of participation. Because of diversity, rationality is unsuitable as criterion for judging, since decisions can be classified as „right“ or „wrong“ depending on the angle of view in the context of multi rationalities (see Schedler & Rüegg-Stürm, 2013). This applies to whether we understand rationality, for example, in Weber’s (1992) sense, which is different in formal and material rationality, whether we favour Luhmann’s (2000) point of view, who explains rationality in connection with legitimation by methods, or whether we understand rationality as a synonym for reason (eg Habermas, 1985) or even in a broader sense (e.g. Bourdieu, 1982). What is meant by rationality always remains ambiguous.

For the professionals of social work, this leads to a permanent negotiation process – individually, organisationally, and socially – about what factors or perspectives requirements for rationality and must be satisfied in each case. Therefore, it is important to distinguish carefully who puts which claim to rationality.

How it will ultimately be decided depends on different dimensions. Personal preferences and value systems are just as important as organizational processes and power structures or social conceptions of morality and justice. For example, the various decision-making aids, such as the Structured Decision Making Model (Department of Social Services of California), or the Stuttgart Child Protection Sheet (Kindler, 2008), can only be seen as objective guidance; Not as „autopilots“ (Lätsch & Jud 2014, p. 25), which take the decision from the professionals. Focusing on a certain rationality carries the risk of developing a so-called „culprit culture“ (cf. the study of Munro 2005). Thus, in the context of social work, in the elucidation of „tragic events“, the focus is always on the person who made the “wrong decision”. Factors that might have influenced their decision are not subject of the investigation (see Munro 2005, p. 382). It is largely ignored that a decision-making process always involves different actors with their different requirements for rationality.

This is accompanied by a dominance of procedural rationality in the sense of Luhmann’s legitimacy of the procedure according to which social decisions are primarily oriented towards the structures of „positive law“ (Luhmann, 1969). By reasoning, checklists, instructions and the like, a certain rationality of decisions is demanded in each case, which leads in the positive sense to a high transparency of the work performance and at the same time is structurally maintaining to the structure-conservative and / or in the negative sense innovation-inhibiting. Feyerabend describes this in his criticism of rationalism as a „method of declining movements“. Innovations, in the Feyerabendian understanding, „occur, not because one has adhered to reason, as it was in the abstractions already obtained, but because it was reasonable enough to proceed in an unreasonable way“ (Feyerabend, 1984) Without referring more closely to the supposed methodological anarchism of Feyerabend, which underlies this thesis, it is clear that what is rational is to be seen in the same logic as the construction of social problems (see deputy for many: Groenemeyer 1999). Rationality is as a concept of high plasticity and is contingent. This is precisely the difficulty of social work in practice. There is a high correspondence between the different mandates of social work the dominance of a certain rationality on the one hand, and the associated high path dependence of social work on the other. Woodcut-like this means: In the perspective of the clientele, rationality is the best possible (effective) aid for improving the living situation; Behind the social policy mandate is the effective and efficient organization of the aid as a rational consideration (rationalization). The obligation of social work against human rights is in turn characterized by quite different rationality (rationalism).

The constraint between the rationalities cannot be solved. But it is important to know which rationality is dominant and therefore decisive.

The antagonism between loose and close coupling

Behind the demands on social work, different social work areas are concealed, depending on the historical development, with equally highly differentiated forms of organization. This raises the question of how social work must be organized, to be successful. This includes on the one hand the core area of social work (value orientation, theories, methods and coproduction). On the other hand, the provision and development of (organizational) framework conditions are central for the answer. The profession of social work is in the tension of its high autonomy claim (cf Otto & Ziegler, 2011) and the ambiguous mandate as stated in the quandaries of the mandates. Since social work always, or at least predominantly takes place, in the context of organizations, the question arises as to how they must be designed. In this context, it is primarily the relationships between individuals, departments, environments, hierarchical levels, ideas, activities and between intentions and actions (see Orton & Weick 1990, p. 208), which are more or less loose or closely linked. This coupling takes place in this very situation via structures – that is, through decisions that are the basis for further decisions – into memberships, hierarchies and the purpose of an organization. On the concept of loose coupling, Wolff writes: „If system elements are loosely coupled, there is interdependence between them. However, this is reduced to the extent that a certain independence and identity of the individual elements is preserved.“ (Wolff 2010, p. 288) Workplaces in the field of social work , characterized by ambiguity and uncertainty, tend to be loosely coupled organizations. „They are especially effective in constellations where it is necessary to reconcile incompatible expectations with an organization, or at least to prevent the actual operation being restricted too much by these contradictions. […] Loose coupling is also helpful when dealing with complex, unpredictable and difficult-to-control environments. „(Wolff 2010, p. 294) On the other hand, requirements by the legislature or the payers lead to expectations for detailed documentation and evaluations et cetera. Therefore, many organizations are more closely linked.

Social worker rationality with its autonomy claim, with its conflicting objectives and with its uncertain cause-effect models, is opposed to the rationality of the service providers (here as legislators and payers) with their requirements for efficient performance and transparency as well as evaluations and controls. The consequence is the formation of numerous rationality myths in social economy organizations primarily through mimetic processes.

Apparently organizations need both close and loose coupling of their respective organizational units – in the sense of an „organized anarchy“ (Wolff 2010, pp. 300ff.). Organized anarchies – with decision-making methods analogous to the garbage-can model – are organizations that are characterized by ambiguous situations, unclear cause-and-effect relationships, and changing participants in their decision-making processes. „From this point of view, an organization is a collection of decisions that look for problems, a collection of facts and feelings that look for decision-making situations in which they might emerge as a collection of solutions that look for facts And a group of decision-makers who are looking for work.“ (Cohen et al., 1990, p. 332) In addition, leadership plays an extremely important role in organized anarchies: “The time at which problems come to the table carefully, react sensitively to changes in interests and engagements on the part of those involved, reflect the status and power implications of electoral and de-cision-making situations, drop initiatives that are different from those originally remote problems, and recognize that their planning function is largely symbolic and primarily provides excuses for their influence, leaders in organized anarchy can keep their clear view and sometimes even modify the decisions made „(Scott 1986, p. 363f.).

There is a need for a careful balance between the respective units (e.g. individuals, teams, departments, workgroups, work units, organizational branches, satellite organizations, etc.), and their interaction or coupling – closely or loosely. The handling of information forms the hinge between loosely and closely coupled units. A balanced mixture of loosely and closely coupled organizational units only works when information within an organization is targeted, so that the degree of coupling can be varied in a manner appropriate to the situation.

The pop culture of „New Management and Leadership Models“

(The model „Evolutionary Organizations “ according to Frederic Laloux“)

In our opinion the current way we run organizations has been stretched to its limit. One way to meet these challenging tasks could be to abandon the traditional forms of organization. In this context two key developments are be seen: on the one side there is a new organizational paradigm like self-organized management and, on the other, there is a uncertain desire of a so-called clean and responsible entrepreneurship.

Accordingly the contemporary discourse about organizational models makes reference to terms like self organization (of course), agile leadership (e.g. Scherber & Lang 2015), democratic enterprises (Sattelberger & Welpe & Boes, 2015), ‘honourable businessman’ (Beschorner & Hajduk, 2011), reinventing organization (Laloux, 2014), the scrum principle (Sutherland, 2015), leading change (Kotter, 2011), lateral Leadership (Kühl, 2016), accelerate (Kotter, 2014), holacracy (Robertson, 2016) and so on.

Most of these ‚new’ organizational models have self-management in common. They operate effectively, by reducing overhead and back offices at a large scale, with a system based on peer relationships, without the need for either classical hierarchies, consensus and massive control(ing). But these terms are more or less empirical anecdotes and are part of a pop culture in management literature: what is missing is a theoretical foundation with which to put the scripted models into practice. The provisional highlight is the publication by Frederic Laloux (2014) entitled “Reenventing Organization” or Gary Hamel (20011) “Let’s fire all the Managers”. In his book, Laloux describes ten organizations that have found new forms of abandonment of traditional organizational structures – both in their formal organization and development, as well as in their development and their business purpose (more customer orientation, etc.).

Laloux has distilled three essential elements among the organizations that he investigates, which are characteristic for evolutionary organizations:

  1. Self-organization / -management
  2. Wholeness
  3. Evolutionary purpose

1. Self-organization/ -management

Essentially, the management functions are given to the individual employee and the team. Guidance and execution are no longer separate units but connected. The decision-making and design power is given to the individual persons to a high degree. Professionals can make almost all decisions in their field of activity themselves and agree on topics that concern several people, in the team or with the affected persons or experts. Self-organization is characterized by the following aspects:

– Self-management and responsibility, instead of external leadership

– Self- and group controlling.

– Subsidiarity instead of centralism

The decision-making power is shifted to the periphery or to the base. There are no longer decisions from above, but from below, on the spot, in direct customer contact. It is no longer a central office or a management that determines how the workplace is designed, but the individual persons and teams decide independently how they divide their work and satisfy the needs of the customers. Personal decisions are also made by affected parties. Central services support the work instead of structuring it or setting it up.

For Laloux, the core element of self-organization is the individual consultative decision. Decisions are made decentralised to the affected clients, not in the centre or at the top of the hierarchy. After that, each person can make any decision regarding her or his area of responsibility. They only have to ask the advice of all persons concerned as well as the experts beforehand. They do not need to take the experts opinion, but at least listen and take it as well as possible. This ‘consulted decisions’ are often faster and based on more insight that those going through the traditional processes of hierarchical decision finding.

2. Wholeness

Wholeness means that every employee with his facets – with his values and peculiarities – can contribute. According to Laloux, this leads to a high level of satisfaction with the work. This creates a trusting atmosphere in which there is a constructive coexistence. This contributes to a better satisfaction of the customers.

For leadership in evolutionary organizations, Laloux says this is twofold: On the one hand, these positive values and guidelines must be clearly visible and implemented within the organization (congruence and integrity). On the other hand, there is a need for specific measures that these values come to life, create relationships and room for dialogues, and provide periods of time in which employees can contribute their completeness.

3. Evolutionary purpose

Laloux assumes that every organization has its own purpose or meaning, an order for the world, a right to exist. This purpose of existence is more than the acting persons, the structure or culture of the organization. It manifests itself through an attentive listening and feeling instead of a rational determination. It gives the direction. The inner or outer environment gives feedback on the extent to which the organizations are able to go in this direction. The flexible reaction replaces the widespread concept of „planning and control“.

The company is seen as a living being who has a life of its own. It wants to be realized in a certain sense in the world. Fundamental for this view is a change of perspective of means and purpose. It is not the growth of money in the focus on evolutionary organizations, but the orientation towards the customer and his unmet needs. Financial success is not seen as the main goal, but as a result of shift of perspectives.

Role of leadership in evolutionary organizations

With increasing self-responsibility the roles and tasks of the leadership change. This includes in particular:

– Trust and continuity to the outside – without further management tasks.

– That creates protection and trust mission within – guardians of the evolutionary

organization, i.e. to ensure that the new path is being followed.

– Creating a new role model for evolutionary behaviours. The task of leadership is

to live this attitude especially in decision-making: Trust rather than control and thus the willingness to hand over responsibility to others.

Critique of the evolutionary organizational model according to Laloux

Criticism 1: Lack of theoretical foundation

As a theoretical basis, Laloux refers to the integral theory of Ken Wilber (2007) and Spiral Dynamics (SD) by Don Beck & Chris Cowan (1996), which he partly links. Spiral Dynamics was developed by Don Beck and Chris Cowan on the basis of Clare Graves‘ research. In the 1950s and 1970s, Clare Graves, using psychological tests, postulated to his students a theory of personality development. The Spiral Dynamics (SD) model is highly doubtful as a theoretical foundation for an organizational model because it is an individual model of consciousness. The empirical basis of Spiral Dynamics is psychological investigations of individuals. Accordingly, a transfer of the SD model to historical developments of organizational forms is at least doubtful. An empirical proof in the sense of basic research is missing. The model is characterized by an almost naive belief in progress that man as an individual or as a whole can move to something higher – whatever that is. This desire is transferred to a more or less advanced evolution to a higher state of consciousness and to a more complex form of organization.

Criticism 2: Data collection unclear and possibly too thin

Laloux focuses on the positive examples in his work. He rightly calls this „empirical anecdotes“. This is, of course, legitimate in the sense of a „best practice“ selection, but it is by no means intended to form a theory (especially in the sense of falsificationism). But we are missing all those organizations, following this new self-organized approaches but are not so successful or are falling completely. It is also striking that Laloux cites only executives and founders. Whether these self-descriptions of the CEOs correspond to the perception of the employees remains uncertain. The employees or the key players are not given a stage and we do not know much about their feelings and thoughts.

Criticism 3: The paradox of an organized heterarchy

On the one hand, Laloux describes examples of decentralized organizational models in which managers have less formal authority. According to Laloux, this applies both to the development of strategies as well as to personnel planning and development issues. Laloux’ examples, on the other hand, show impressively how much the implementation of heterarchic structures is dependent on strong personalities or even on a visionary leader. Self-organized systems – as Laloux describes them – come from hierarchical environments and decisions. If the pioneers and innovators withdrew – for whatever reason – the organization often falls back into their old patterns (e.g. FAVI). Self organized system depending obviously special leaders or special personalities.

At the end of the day – Tasks for a responsible leadership

Laloux’s descriptions of organizations remain impressive, despite the criticism. Although they do not serve to form a theory, they show a path for new developments in organizations. Successful leaders in such organization as e.g. Jos de Bloc distant themselves from what traditional theory has to offer. In particular, the examples show the requirements for a responsible leadership in self-organized systems. We shall briefly describe the fact that this is not the quadrature of the circle, in which we represent four ideational types of leadership in self-organized systems. In general, leadership in selforganized systems is radically different from leadership in traditional organizations. It must be contextual, interactive, structural, and cultural:

  1. The separation between leaders and executives is renegotiated temporarily and functionally. This does not mean that these systems are in a state of lack of leadership or anarchy. In this context, responsible leadership means that similar to the ideas of „organized anarchy“, trust in the stability and development capability of and in organizations must develop through processes of participation. Such a contextual approach has the task of designing adequate cultural and administrative framework conditions.
  2. Interactional leadership refers to the direct influence and shaping of the exchange relations between the leaders. In self-organized systems, the degree of participation in the management interaction must be significantly higher than in traditional organizations. Leaders do not have enduring and superior power to impose decisions on other people’s decisions.
  3. Self-organized systems must create conditions which, depending on the structure of the tasks, lead to a specific role differentiation within the management system. Each member of an organization, within the framework of structural leadership, assumes the role of tasks and responsibilities, which is best suited to his or her competences and abilities to make the best possible use of existing knowledge.
  4. Through cultural leadership, joint thought patterns, shared knowledge stocks, values and norms are to be developed, which will enable a cooperative as well as innovative community. However, it is questionable how such a culture can be created or altered through leadership.

Against this background, there are two main aspects of a responsible leadership:

  1. How are cooperations created and
  2. How are decisions made.

1. Cooperation as a central task of a Responsible Leaderships

Cooperation emerges not so easily, it must be consciously and purposefully developed. To this end, the organizations and persons involved must, as a rule, shape and ensure a more or less comprehensive learning and development process. This also means that cooperation usually results from negotiations and is characterized by open communication and participatory decision-making processes. In cooperative ventures, too, we are forced to create structures that enable decisions to be differentiated, reflected, and still made promptly. Cooperation creates shared expectations, visions and goals. And formal and informal game and conflict rules, as well as formal and informal power structures, are developing. This means that cooperation develops and establishes its own realities and tendencies towards increased autonomy and a growing independence in cooperation.

For this reason, we have to ask ourselves again and again about the balance between the autonomy of the individual organizations and their involvement in the cooperation. Cooperation is always part of the host organizations and at the same time often also foreign bodies in the same organizations. We must therefore ask ourselves whether and to what extent cooperative forms are sustainable in the long term, should be resolved, or be more clearly structured and deepened through a broader grouping. Cooperation is rarely a stable structure, but is often subject to major and dramatic changes.

In any case, the responsible and the key personnel – both in terms of operational and strategic issues – must have a jointly developed and established interactive organizational understanding and thus be increasingly capable and willing:

  • to think and act in cooperative approaches as well as to develop learning and development processes beyond the institution,
  • to actively, openly and objectively reflect the link between the organization and the environment and, if necessary, to work with cross-organizational process models,
  • to reflect, to initiate, to build up, consolidate and to dissolve relationships with important partners (individuals and institutions),
  • to allow different hierarchical forms (hierarchy and heterarchy), that is, to solve problems on the levels at which they occur (Minnig and Bühler, 2004)
  • and perhaps, as a matter of principle, to understand cooperation as a new possibility, that must be further developed beyond their own traditional boundaries.

2. Decision making

Really decisive in the organization – such as the organization of the structure and process organization – is the subject of subroutines which make the decision repeatable and automate the decision-making process. In contrast to the theories of the „rational decision“ (see Esser 1990, pp. 23ff.) Luhmann (2000) and von Foerster (1992) et al. contribute not to the individual decision-maker and his rationality, that is, as rationally as possible. Objectively determinable decision-making, but rather conceive decisions as a „social event.“ A subsequent conception is the garbage-can model by Cohen, March and Olsen (1972, p. 1ff.). This model does not describe how to decide in uncertain situations (rational or intuitive), but rather provides information about how decisions are actually made as a social event. According to the linguistic sciences, this could also be understood as a „contextualisation“ of decisions (see Auer 1986, p.22ff.). According to this logic, decisions based on the garbage-can model essentially depend on four factors, which are relatively independent of each other:

  1. problems that currently have to be addressed in the organization,
  2. solutions that are currently available and look for problems which they can be applied to organization members and decision making. (Cohen / March / Olsen 1972, p. 33)

Decisions are made when these four streams flow together. In other words, if the right people meet at the right time and have solutions to a particular problem, then a decision (though uncertain) can be made. This conception of decision-making seems to be trivial at first sight, but in practical implementation, it proves to be challenging because decision-making situations are always characterized by numerous influencing factors that are not, or only very conditionally, controllable. A view of this kind allows analogies to the decision-making reality in organizations in the social economy – especially with the garbage-can model with limited knowledge and imperfect technologies, with inconsistent preferences and goals of the organization and not least with fluctuating participation in decision situations Amstutz & Zängl 2015a/2015b). The primary task of management (better: Responsible Leaderships) would be to create an opportunity structure in the sense of the garbage-can model, in which decisions relevant to organization can be made at all.


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Minnig, Christoph/Zängl, Peter (2019). Leadership in self-organized systems - squaring the circle or a new kind of responsibility? In: Selbstorganisation Journal. Sammelband 2019 (1). S. 6-20.

Prof. Dr. Christoph Minnig (Alle Beiträge sehen)

Hochschule für Wirtschaft, Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz FHNW.

Leiter des Institutes Nonprofit- und Public Management. Dozent für Organizational Behavior mit Schwerpunkt Organisationstheorie, Changemanagement und Kooperation.


Prof. Dr. Peter Zängl (Alle Beiträge sehen)

Hochschule für Soziale Arbeit, Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz FHNW.

Schwerpunkte: Arbeits- und Organisationssoziologie, Sozialmanagement, Social-Impact-Modell, Zivilgesellschaft, Entscheidungen in Organisationen.


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