Less photocopie, more autonomy

When self-management transforms an internship

Most of the time when talking about internships people think photocopying, coffee and unnecessary tasks. The internships are supposed to teach us how to work but sometimes they end up as a longue term observation or idleness spent on Facebook or Whatsapp to kill time. Of course, there are internships where trainees work hard and are even downright exploited.

I wanted to avoid this kind of setback when we decided to take a trainee and wanted to make sure she was going to learn how to work with autonomy and pleasure. This is the context in which we set up self-management. I am French and work for a German IT and Innovation consulting company based in Leipzig and I live in Stuttgart. Since the beginning of April we have a French trainee, who works in our office in Leipzig. I wanted to see if my convictions about self-management could be confronted with reality.

I have followed the following process to ensure that this internship would be a learning experience at the personal and professional level and offer development for both the trainee and myself. My goal was that this internship serves both of us.


The process began well before the internship beginning. During the first call, I introduced her to our company and asked her what she expected from this internship. In french there is difference of pronoun. You can be polite and hierarchical with a "vous" or friendly with a "tu". We very soon used "tu" because the "vous" creates a hierarchical distance that I did not wish to have. I assume that every person is equal to me regardless of his or her experience, level of education and so on. Here are some of the questions I asked her to clarify her intention:

  • Why do you have to do an internship? (She explained me that she had the choice between taking a 3-month internship or taking university courses.)
  • Why do you do an internship rather than taking courses? (She wanted to discover the world of work and especially to determine her professional project.)
  • What do you like or do not like to do? (This allowed me to evaluate whether our respective expectations could complement each other, which was the case.)

After a discussion with the company director we decided to invite her for a face-to-face meeting to present the mission we had to offer her. Once the presentation is complete and some details on the paperwork to be completed clarified. I had time to discuss in more detail the following aspects:

  • Where did she want to go?
  • What had she done and learned in the past? (This can be other internships, volunteering, a strong event ...)
  • What was she looking for in this internship?

I wanted to know her better. This discussion allowed both of us to understand each other and to see that we had a great connection. I knew what she wanted to learn and she knew what we expected of her. 

We gave her a few days to reflect on our offer and we were pleased to learn that she wanted to do the internship with us. I therefore made everything possible to ensure that this internship's mission would answer her questions.


Before we started, we defined the framework in which the trainee would have to evolve. I have based myself on reading articles, Reinventing Organization by Frederic Laloux, and on my experience as SCRUM master and also as subordinate to propose the bases of our cooperation. I explained to the trainee that the framework could be adapted to her needs and expectations and that we would adjust it together.

This is the framework of our agreement:

  • Every week we decide together what to do until Friday
  • Daily call to talk about what has been done, remains to be done and what raises problems (the principle of daily scrum)
  • Call / message / e-mail when a question is tapping us
  • "Feedforward" session once a month to determine what needs to be maintained, set up or stopped
  • She makes certain decisions on the basis of the internship mission and asks questions if necessary.
  • She proposes her ideas and implements them
  • She organizes her working time as she wishes as long as she informs me and provides the expected results on time
  • She is responsible for the outcome of her work
  • She chooses herself how to work and can ask me for advice
  • A bad question is a question not asked
  • I am a resource for her

We have adjusted this framework throughout the internship to ensure that we achieve the objectives set out at the beginning. Feedforward sessions and daily calls allowed us to correct the shot when we moved away from our target.

Self-management amplifies...

The results of the self-management exceeded all my expectations, both professionally and personally. My convictions are now reinforced and even more strongly intertwined in my way of working with others.
The things that impressed me are:
  • The force of proposal and creativity of the trainee
  • Quality of work and results beyond my expectations
  • Full involvement of the trainee
  • A relationship that will last much longer than the internship itself
  • A real joy to work together
  • A motivation for both of us that seems inexhaustible
  • Fluidity in the work process
  • The satisfaction of a successful job
  • Problem solved almost immediately
  • Anticipating and preventing future problems

I am delighted with our cooperation and you can sign me up to the recidivist list of self-management. 
Self-management frees the individual and gives her the opportunity to express and develop her talents

Why did it work?

I wondered what were the elements of this successful cooperation and discussed it with the trainee. We came to the following conclusion:

  • The aim of the internship was clear
  • The framework was defined
  • Communication went both ways
  • Trust was established between us
  • Questions and "errors" were allowed. (There is no error in itself but rather learnings to identify.)
  • Ideas were welcome
  • Interests and skills were recognized and appreciated

I would like to thank the trainee who will recognize herself by reading these lines. We have learned enormously and have grown together. I hope that you are now curious to implement & test self-management in your team and see what comes out.

NB: I speak of the trainee and not of our trainee because we de not own her. She is free and has freely shared her talents, creativity and energy with us.

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