What Collaborative Teams Do Differently

I sincerely hope that you’ve had a chance to be a part of at least one highly collaborative team! If you have, my thoughts here will attempt to describe that peak experience and what a collaborative team does differently. If you have not, my goal is to capture the essence of the being on a collaborative team, so that you are more alert for this type of experience.

When you’re a part of this type of team, you contribute meaningfully to something bigger than yourself or anything you could have done alone. You step back in amazement and wonder that, together, big and important work was done. You’ve bonded, often making life-long friendships, with those that worked side by side with you.

That’s not to say that you loved every moment and that there weren’t times of friction and conflict. Often times the task was herculean, the resources scarce, and the work you did far exceeded anything described in your job description. At times you wondered if you could really do what you set out to do.

But, you did it. No, that is not true. In reality, “we” did it. Together, in spite of the daunting task, the team pulled together, did what needed to be done and made it happen. In my experience, collaborative teams I’ve worked with have started green-field manufacturing plants in countries foreigns to us, implemented ERP systems in complex ecosystems, started companies and put together meaningful learning programs with long lasting impact.

What a Truly Collaborative Team Looks Like

I’ve been a part of many teams that did “big” work and hard work that were not collaborative. On these teams, the work got done. We worked hard. We overcame obstacles. But these teams didn’t have the same feel, the same zest and the same spark that others did.

So what makes a collaborative team different, and how do they function? Here is my take, from my experience:

  • Collaborative teams have a laser like focus on the common purpose and why it is important. There was deep clarity about the work of the team and we knew that our work mattered. There were plenty of times that we thought there was no way, no how, that we could do it, but we still showed up every day and worked as if we could.
  • While there was clarity on the purpose, the day to day details about how to achieve the purpose were not well defined. We had the freedom to meet the objective using our own skills, brain power and will. This was not for a lack of skill; it merely reflected that this work was new and different than what had been done before. We were charged to find the way forward.
  • Although everyone on the team had a role, specific expertise and was a responsible for a “part” of the whole, yet everyone pitched in to do whatever was needed. I can’t think of a single, solitary time when I head a fellow team member on one of the teams complain “that this is not MY job”. Our job was to deliver on our mission and everyone’s job was to make that happen.
  • There were not “prima donnas”, but there also weren’t slackers. There were clearly some folks in charge, but leadership flowed naturally depending on the needs of the work in that particular moment. Team members who didn’t contribute or were too “good” to get their hands dirty didn’t last long on these teams.
  • Creative solutions emerged. As these collaborative teams were traversing new ground, we brought a sense of possibility and a lack of constraints that freed us up to do things differently. There was a willingness to listen to new ideas and to take a risk to try them. There were passionately debates about how to proceed, ultimately deciding and getting behind a way forward (that often combined several of the ideas from many different team members).
  • There was a strong sense of team work. Everyone was valued and it showed. We worked hard together, but also got to know each other personally. We socialized together. Traveled together. Knew each other’s families. We supported and helped each other, in and outside of work. We balanced task and team (or relationship). And many, many years later, these people are still some of my closest friends.

Synthesizing What Collaborative Teams Do Differently

The best I can synthesize what collaborative teams do differently is that they:

  • focus on both TASK and TEAM
  • are highly accountable and get work done
  • achieve big things
  • are creative and innovative in pursuit of accomplishing what they set out to do. At the same time, they nurture relationships
  • respect everyone’s contribution and expect everyone to contribute
  • disagree at times, but only in the pursuit of the shared goal
  • are more fluid in tasks and leadership and idea generation
  • support, challenge, and work hard
  • celebrate successes and the stories of their failures become part of the team lore about the journey

Is Your Team Collaborative?

If you’d like to size up either leadership or team capabilities with collaboration – reach out. We have a great tool for self-assessment.

If you’d like to nurture more collaboration in your work place, let’s talk! Just reach out to me at kris@evergreenleadership.com

How to Tend Your Team’s Fire and Not Get Burned

I’m part of a leadership body for a volunteer organization which has been in a turmoil over a variety of issues, some big, some small. I’ve witnessed the typical human tendencies when conflict erupts:

  • Some are ready for the good fight, armed with their verbal barbs
  • Others are fleeing, scurrying as quickly as they can to resign, to check out, to lay low
  • And sides are forming everywhere as those that feel strongly about the issues seek out and recruit others who share their views

It’s been a rich learning for me, both in seeing how conflict moves through a body of people who have so much in common and in determining how to best show leadership when a group is fracturing over issues that are complex and divisive.

Leaders as Fire Tenders

The image that has emerged for me is “fire tender”. Leaders are always responsible for generating energy (or heat) as they engage the hearts and efforts of others in moving toward a common, shared and worthwhile goal.

In thinking about that energy and momentum as “heat” generated by a “fire”, I recalled that fire takes three elements: Fuel, Oxygen and a source of Heat.

As a leader, your Fuel includes the resources within your reach. It can be your own energy or the energy of others. Seed money is fuel as is the common vision of the purpose of the group you are leading.

The second element needed is Oxygen. This is the environment you create and your ability to allow others to “air” their thoughts. Some leaders are too stifling and don’t allow enough air into the situation. These restrictive leaders dampen (or totally extinguish) the energy others bring. On the other extreme are the leaders that either fan the fire or allow others to do so without restraint, creating increasingly uncontrollable situation in which the fire burns out of control.

The third element needed is a source of Heat. Your leadership and direction can spark energy and the fire. And in times of conflict, the friction between various points of view creates the heat that starts the fire.

As a leader, you want the energy of the fire, the passion that moves people toward a goal, and the friction between what is and what could be. Yet the energy you are firing up does require tending. For too hot a fire and your people and organization burn out of control. Burn too fast and resources are consumed too quickly. And when the fire is too hot, people either get burned or burn out.

On the other hand, too little fire and teams burn too cool. Leaders that are too cool are overly controlled and fearful to tap into the heat. They smother or drown the fire, apprehensive about unleashing the energy, emotion and fervor it brings. Groups with a too cool leader are lethargic and uninspired. People here don’t burn out, they check out.

Harnessing the Power of Fire

As a leader, the key is to manage the energy so that your organizational fires burns neither too hot nor too cool. The image is a controlled fire. One with light and heat, but with mechanisms in place to control the burn. That requires you to create sparks – to ignite the possibility before you. You need to provide enough fuel to feed the fire, and your fuel can be people or vision or higher purpose or clear direction. As a leader tending a controlled fire, you’ll need to enable air to circulate, to create openness and a free flow of the right amount of air (or input from others) to start the fire and keep it burning. And you also need to create some fire walls, norms that contain the energy so that it is helpful and not hurtful.

Equally as a leader fire tender, you instinctively know when you need to step in to cool things down because the fire is burning too hot. At those times you might need to slow things down a bit, stop adding more fuel, manage the energy of the group to get things to a more manageable level.

The converse is knowing when you need to stoke the fire. When things are running too cool, you might need to create a spark, to add more fuel or to blow gently so as to find those embers that can reignite with just a bit of attention from you.

I’ve seen leaders panic when their team catches fire. They step in and immediately pour cold water on what has emerged, drowning it rather than tending it carefully. At times this is because it was “not their idea”. Other times it is because the light and energy threatens the status quo. And at other times they are afraid of brilliance of the light they might create.

Man’s early discovery of how to control fire was one of the biggest breakthroughs in the advancement of human civilization. As noted in Wikipedia:

The control of fire by early humans was a turning point in the cultural aspect of human evolutionFire provided a source of warmth, protection, improvement on hunting and a method for cooking food. These cultural advancements allowed for human geographic dispersal, cultural innovations, and changes to diet and behavior. Additionally, creating fire allowed the expansion of human activity to proceed into the dark and colder hours of the evening.

So too, can your ability as a leader to tend to and control the fire in your organization can be a turning point. Harnessing the power of that fire, rather than being afraid of it, can provide energy, engagement and innovation. Being willing to stoke the fire and create a spark can enliven and refocus your team. Managing the fire so that its warmth, light and energy are helpful and not raging out of control is important. Perhaps your most important role as a leader!

Leaders as Creators

In this series on creativity within organizations, I am reposting this blog post from 2015. In it, I describe the role of leaders as creators.

An artist looks at their work in a totally different frame of mind than a mechanic does. The artist sees infinite possibility. The mechanic sees a problem to be solved. The artist has a vision. The mechanic has a job. The artist works in iterations, continuing to add to the creation what is needed. The mechanic works by elimination, until the source of the dysfunction is found. The artist creates, the mechanic fixes.

As a leader, you are often in the “mechanic mode”. People bring to you problems to be solved, work to be done, decisions to be made, dilemmas to be fixed, and that is a valuable and ever-present part of the role you play.

leaders-creators

The Role of Creator

But how often do you play the role of creator? Of someone who can envision a better future and then find a way to make that vision a reality? How often do you paint a new canvas, rather than making do with the old one, no matter how tattered? How often do you imagine? Experiment? Push the boundaries? Ask what “could be” rather than dealing with “what is”?

The notion that leaders can be creators is a head scratcher for many. What indeed do leaders create?

At the North American Leadership Academy for the Society of International Business Fellows, I taught a session on creating as a leader. That group came up with this list of things that leaders create:

  • Vision
  • Structure
  • Values
  • Culture
  • Opportunities
  • Environment
  • Positive outcomes
  • Processes
  • Strategies
  • Objectives
  • Boundaries
  • Incentives
  • Standards
  • Teams
  • Networks
  • Products
  • Services
  • New Markets
  • Customer Experiences

If you recognize your power as a leader/creator, you approach your work differently. When you are in the “leader as creator” mode, you ask what you want to create. You shape, with intention and purpose, things like culture and values and team. You remain open to possibility and the power it brings. You take ownership and accountability for creating something of value – rather than playing victim to your circumstances.

Creating as a leader is infinitely more difficult than creating as a solitary artist, as there are people and processes and systems to navigate. But it is also infinitely more rewarding – as any leader who has created a compelling vision, a vibrant and healthy culture, or a strong set of core values knows.

If you are interested in learning how to create as a leader, you’ll want to read Chapters 4 to 7 in my book, The Leader’s Guide to Turbulent Times or book my workshop: A Seven Step Process for Organizational Creativity.

So I’m curious – what have you created as leader? What would you like to create?


Have you heard about LEAP? It’s a three-part methodology I created to help corporate individuals make the LEAP to independent consulting. Learn more by visiting leaprightnow.biz!

Can Doing Nothing be an Act of Leadership?

Leading seems to us to be an action verb. Visionary. Problem solver. Manager. Fire fighter.

As leaders we can feel compelled to build, to fix, to organize.

Very seldom do we give ourselves the latitude to do nothing. We are busy. We are needed. Others rely on us.

There is a shadow side of having our hands in everything. Our actions communicate and when we are in perpetual doing and fixing and solving, the message we may be sending can be:

  • I don’t believe you are capable of handling this situation.
  • You need my wisdom, judgement, action for everything.
  • I can resolve this better.
  • I am indispensable.

And at times, when we spend some much time in the day to day, we can fail to do the more important but less urgent work.

The idea of intentionally doing nothing is counterintuitive. It may strike you as lazy. As failing in your duty. As not leading.

When To Do Nothing

Yet I would propose there are times when, as leaders, we might do nothing.

Here are a few examples:

  • The situation is highly like to resolve itself without our intervention.
  • Others are perfectly capable of doing the right thing without our guidance.
  • Others may grow in skill or confidence if they navigate the solution to the situation.
  • We don’t have enough information to make an informed decision about how to proceed.
  • There are other, more important issues that demand our attention.

Don’t be mistaken. I am not suggesting totally hands off, do nothing leadership. I am merely suggesting the totally hands on all the time and in all situations may not be the right choice. For when we set up our leadership so that EVERYTHING revolves around our actions, our decisions, our guidance – we choke off creativity, we impede others growth and development, we burn out, we grow weary of this very heavy burden we have ourselves created.


Remarkable-Womens-Retreat

Remarkable women leaders, join us for a 24-hour multigenerational retreat experience on May 4-5, 2017 at Wooded Glen Retreat Center.

During our time together, you will work, play, and honor your mind, body, and spirit with a transformative program. Experience influential relationship building, mastermind, small group, and full leadership sessions, delicious food and restful accommodations.

Learn more at http://remarkablewomenleaders.com/.

Gratitude: Food for the Soul

weed-garden-imageIn the US, we celebrate Thanksgiving this week. It is the one holiday that is focused on gratitude, abundance, and honoring and sharing the good things in our lives.

Personally, I’m an advocate for expressing gratitude 100% of our days and not only .03% of the time.

Many of us think of gratitude as sentimental, soft, a sugar coating of the tough, hard difficult world we inhabit. As I work with groups and signal spending time on gratitude, without fail, there is someone to joke that we are going to have a Kum Bi Yah moment. Often it is raised in disdain and not delight.

Conventional thinking would tell us it is better to focus on the problems. After all, that is the job of management. Others share the advice that you should avoid sharing appreciation to those you lead, since it might go to their heads. Then they might slack off or even have the audacity to ask for a raise.

Scientific Benefits of Gratitude

Scientists would beg to differ. Gratitude begets a bevy of benefits including:

  • Increased levels of well-being and life satisfaction
  • More happiness
  • Better energy
  • More optimism
  • Less depression
  • Improved health, specifically lower blood pressure
  • Higher levels of control of their environment
  • More personal growth
  • Higher sense of purpose
  • Better ability to deal with difficulties
  • Fewer negative coping strategies (think drugs, alcohol, and other harmful habits)
  • Better sleep
  • Increased longevity
  • Positive impact to others

After 20 years of practicing gratitude, I’ve noticed that gratitude does not prevent me from seeing and solving problems. It does not lull me into complacency or transform me into an annoyingly upbeat Pollyanna.

It puts me in a place in which I have a more balanced view.

However, I must admit, I spent many of my adult years in a place other than gratitude. I could walk through a beautiful garden on a sunny day with butterflies flitting and birds singing and flowers blooming and instead of seeing the beauty, focus on the weeds.

Establishing a Pattern of Gratitude

Once you establish a pattern of practicing gratitude, you open your eyes to how much there is to appreciate. I began to see how much the little things really mattered. I was struck with the insight that I could influence my life and others to be more joyful. I could build people up, rather than tear them down.

I encourage you, on this solitary day of the year, where we cease our frantic pace and join with others and savor a meal and perhaps a football game or parade – to really pause. The stores will be open (bright and early). Work will still be there, for those of you able to take the day off. All those worries and problems will patiently await your return.

Pause. Rest. Reflect. See your world through a different lens. And share your gratitude with others….in words, deeds, and actions.


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Leadership 101: What You Do Matters. What You Don’t Do Matters Too.

AtDeskSometimes leaders think that communication is what happens when they make a presentation. Or send an email. Or hold a meeting.

In fact, leaders communicate every moment of every day. In their words. By their actions. With their inaction. Because people are watching and adjusting – sometimes to the subtlest of cues.

The minute you step into a leadership position, no matter what level, others begin to look to you for direction and guidance. And as such, what you say is important. Words matter and you can use them to further the worthwhile purpose you are leading. You can also, if not careful, use them to derail and detract and to detour effort.

As a new leader, I was taken aback by how others reactions to my words and actions changed so quickly. As a team member, a snarky comment got barely noticed. As a leader, it became fodder for gossip, fear, and speculation.

As a team member, I could forget something and my forgetfulness was taken as a mere oversight. As a leader, not doing something signaled it was not important and others would shift their energy somewhere else.

As a team member, I could be friends with whoever I wanted. As a leader, friendships became equated with favoritism and people feeling they were either “in” or “out” of favor.

When you’re a leader, others are listening to what you say, but even more so are looking to see what you do. This quote sums it up quite nicely:

People hear what you say.

People see what you do.

Seeing is believing.

Nonverbal Cues

I would see this happen time and time again when the manufacturing plant I worked in would get a new general manager. If the new manager was a shirt and tie guy, within a period of two weeks, shirts and ties began to be the dress of choice with those that reported to him. Bring in a khaki and golf shirt guy, and the ties were retired and replaced by more casual attire without a word being said.

Non-verbal cues speak loudly. There was a day I was privy to unsettling news that we were closing a division, impacting over 1000 jobs. That afternoon, rather than making the rounds to all the lines before leaving, I gathered my things from my office with a heavy heart and just left. First shift passed information about my demeanor to second and then again to the people on third shift. When I arrived early the next morning, no less than three operators asked me what was wrong and had surmised that something big was happening. All that from a change in my routine and body language.

People take cues from what you say and do but also from what you don’t say or do. I once assigned an important project to a highly capable team member. Knowing it was in good hands, I focused my time and energy on other things. I was quite surprised to find, a few weeks before the project was to be completed, that it had been abandoned. My inattention had signaled unimportance, and this high performer had aligned their actions with cues. This was not a performance issue; it was my lack of leadership.

The 3 C’s of Stellar Leadership

Stellar leaders know that others are looking to them. As such, they lead with:

  • Clarity – they know the messages they intend to send and the direction they are taking others
  • Congruence – they align their words and their actions, seamlessly
  • Consciousness – they are aware of the impact their words and actions take – and avoid sending misleading or unintended signals

Leaders who have clarity, congruence, and consciousness create alignment, focus, and energy. Those that don’t create confusion, frustration and wasted effort. Which type of leader are you?


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Evergreen Leadership’s 2016 Community Builders Retreat

DarkerSiderWhen the 2016 Community Builders were packing their bags for Evergreen Leadership’s Connect & Create Retreat, they knew two things.

1.) They had been nominated and chosen as one of Evergreen Leadership’s 2016 Community Builders Award winners. 2.) They were heading to Wooded Glen Conference Center to meet their fellow award recipients at a 24-hour retreat filled with the promise of building relationships and developing leadership skills.

Connecting.

What the Community Builders found in the rolling hills of Henryville, IN left them excited, inspired, and renewed.

“The Connect & Create retreat was an incredible space to network with other emerging leaders, pause to consider the creative components of leadership and receive from [Evergreen Leadership’s founder] Kris Taylor’s expertise,” said Community Builder Kristin Fuller.

CB7The retreat began on July 15 when the Community Builders met for the first time in one of Wooded Glen Conference Center’s community areas. Over the next 24 hours, the Community Builders attended four Evergreen Leadership programming sessions, relaxed around a campfire, took time to reflect during free hours, ate Wooded Glen’s home-cooked meals, and participated in a team course.

“The physical team building exercises were really eye-opening and were when I felt closest to my retreat companions. I guess that’s what happens when you’re forced to be blindfolded and trust your group,” said Community Builder Jonah Crismore.

Creating.

The retreat ended with the Community Builders using Evergreen Leadership’s Creative Tension Worksheet to plan an idea. They then shared resources or information they needed in order to make their idea happen. If another Community Builder could assist them, he or she offered to.

“The most helpful aspect of the retreat was the group sharing time with ‘asks’ of the group encouraged. I think that really facilitated tangible responses from the group,” said Fuller.

CB4Evergreen Leadership’s founder, Kris Taylor, created the retreat as a way to bring leaders across the state together. From the first night, she felt the excitement of the weekend.

“The retreat was all I hoped for and more. The award winners connected and in those connections came support, encouragement and shared wisdom. And they had the time and space to relax, recharge and then go back to their communities re-energized and refocused,” said Taylor.

Wooded Glen Conference Center helped to host and sponsor the event. They are already working with Evergreen Leadership to plan next summer’s Community Builders retreat.

By Katie Workman,
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Make it Easy to Do the Right Thing – Planning a Successful Change Initiative

We all fall prey to the path of least resistance – doing what is easy and expedient over what is in our long term best interest. We are hungry and pop into a convenience store, where we are overwhelmed by poor choices. Do we seek out the isolated piece of fruit hidden among the chips, candy and donuts? I don’t know about you, but peanut M&M’s win out every time for me.

It's easy to see in this photo that the path worn through the grass should be considered in a design change.Smart landscape designers will wait for the path of least resistance to emerge, allowing the paths that people actually take to become where the sidewalk is placed, rather than putting down a hard surface that gets little use while folks wear a path in the grass.

Knowing our human tendency to do what is easy can be a technique you can use anytime you are planning a change effort. While it takes effort to imagine, define, and develop new wellness or productivity or customer service initiatives – the real work is in fostering adoption. People fall prey to habits, both good and bad, and more change initiatives fail due to poor uptake than they ever do to poor design or intent.

Too often we rely on tell (the communication plan), teach (the training strategy) or motivate (extolling the virtues without the specifics). These are all fine, but understanding the human proclivity to take the path of least resistance can help us design ways that “pull” people into the desired behaviors more easily.

That’s why the simple mantra of, “What can we do to make it easy to do the ‘right’ thing?” can make a big difference.

  • What if the employee gym was on-site and on the way from the parking lot?
  • What if the cafeteria placed the healthier foods in more prominent places and made the less healthy options available, but out of easy reach?
  • What if we ordered enough tools to have one at each work station, rather than having people walk to a central place to get them?
  • What if we found ways for our customer service team to spend a day on the customer site to better relate to how they use our product or service?
  • What if I got a reminder email when I needed to do a new step in the process?

Making it easy to do the right thing requires observing, asking, listening, and a touch of creativity. Time well spent – as nudging behavior in the right direction may be the most powerful change tool at your disposal.

What “nudges” or “making it easy” examples have you used or experienced? Share your examples with us and we’ll all learn!

Barbie Shoes and the Vacuum Cleaner

As my children were growing up, Saturday was “clean the house” day. Everyone participated, no matter their age. For my daughter, Nicole, at age six it meant that toys and clutter had to move off the floor and into their designated storage places so that the vacuum could be run.

Nothing says focus on the Barbie shoes lying on the floor like the sound of the vacuum cleaner.In spite of knowing this, the floor would often be strewn with Barbie shoes on Saturday morning. After reminders that escalated to nagging and warnings, there was one thing that was certain to create an immediate surge of frantic activity to put the shoes away. And that was the sound of the vacuum cleaner headed to her room. For she knew from past experience that I had no regrets about vacuuming up those annoying shoes, never to be seen again. In fact, I rather liked the idea that these shoes were no longer going to be underfoot!

Now Nicole was not a naughty or unruly child. She just has at least one thousand things better to do than to pick up Barbie shoes. Until the roar of the vacuum sent a clear message: Run now to save the shoes!

Not unlike most of us. We have many things to do. We aren’t bad or lazy; perhaps distracted and overwhelmed. So the leadership question becomes this: WHAT CAN WE DO TO SPUR FOCUS AND ATTENTION ON THE THINGS THAT ARE MOST IMPORTANT? 

Too many times we may revert to also using a roar – not of a vacuum – but of our voice. We may become louder, a clear warning that our patience has been depleted. Rather than use your vacuum cleaner voice, you might want to try some of these leadership tactics to maintain accountability to tasks and deadlines:

Deadlines – First of all, have them. Make them known, reasonable, and set a very high standard for meeting them. Far too often requests are sent out “to do” without a “when to do them”. These tasks are easy to put off. They also fall prey to the strategy of “wait and see” – the hope the assignment was a whim and not something really that needed doing.

Dashboard – Measuring and reporting out progress publicly has a magical way of focusing time, energy and work. Determine what is important to do and create a way to report on progress. No one likes to be seen as the slacker, and I’ve often seen the use of a dashboard (well-constructed and reported on weekly) move things along when all else had failed.

Demonstrations – Asking people to show their work publicly (at a team meeting, in your office, to peers) both spurs action and also increases the quality of the work itself. Amazing what a little show-and-tell can do – even with as little as a 10 minute spot on the team agenda.

Decisions – I’ve often seen the Barbie shoe scramble when this message is sent: “I am going to make a decision by X date. If I don’t have your (input, ideas, feedback), I am going to proceed without it.

No matter what your tactic, keep in mind that most folks are just like you – busy, overextended at times, distracted by other things that appear equally as important. When leading, your clear direction about what is important, when it needs doing, and to what quality it must be done, helps focus and organize effort. Doing so builds accountability, momentum and drives performance.

So please share – what leadership actions do you take to avoid the Barbie shoe scramble?

Is Holacracy a new organizational structure that will catch on?

In November 2014, Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, the billion dollar on-line shoe retailer, announced the company was moving to holarchy, an organizational structure with no job titles and no managers.

Instead of the typical hierarchy, fraught with bottlenecks, slow decision making, and concentrated power, the company will be organized into 400 circles, with each circle having a number of roles. The intent is “radical transparency” and extreme adaptability. In this model, the CEO has less power and all employees are expected to lead and to act entrepreneurially. Zappos and its 1500 partners (you and I would call them employees) will be the largest company to date to attempt this type of organizational structure.

hierarchy to Holacracy

The idea of a holacracy was founded and documented by Brian Robertson. In this structure, there are roles rather than job descriptions. Roles are work-focused, updated frequently, and one may have multiple roles. Decision making is distributed rather than centralized. Rather than a rigid structure which requires a major re-org to update, changes to the structure are done via smaller, continuous iterations. And finally, rather than office politics, governance is done via transparent rules that all play by.

And these transparent roles may be the Achilles heel of this structure. Robertson penned the Holacracy Constitution, a dense, legalistic, document of 30 pages.  For those of you that don’t want to wade through the constitution, here is a quick summary of how it works.

What I Think Works with the this Model

I’ve long been an advocate of moving past job descriptions, which are typically out of date, inaccurate, descriptions of the work – that takes too much effort and time to update. Roles make sense to me, and a system which allows for multiple roles seems a more accurate reflection of the reality of today’s marketplace.

Circles resonate with me (no surprise there) and especially those that cross over traditional “silos”.

Shared leadership and making decisions at the lowest possible level are something I think any organization that wants to be effective today must figure out.

And agility in org design makes perfect sense – and anything one can do to promote the idea that jobs and roles are “fluid” rather than “fixed” is a much more accurate representation of today’s realities.

What Bothers Me about the this Model

It strikes me that 39-page “constitutions” are the antithesis of entrepreneurial action – of seeing and seizing opportunities and creating something new. I fully realize that there needs to be structure and some rules of the road. I would advocate a values-driven framework that is a bit simpler and a whole lot more flexible.

I’ve seen many fine people, who were really good at doing “tasks,” get hamstrung when asked to make decisions. And that is only complicated when decisions are made in a group (AKA circle) – so I have to wonder if decisions will be made better or quicker.

And when I lay this type of tightly documented, rigid constitutional document against the clarity, simplicity and focus of the Zappo’s values – I envision a huge culture clash:

Values that guide Zappos:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

In fact, a May 23, 2015 Forbes article by Steve Denning, reports that 14% of Zappos employees have opted to leave, as opposed to the normal 1% attrition rate. Now, a change this big will unfold over years and not months – and it will be interesting to see if the cultural shift (1.) can be made and (2.) creates the type of organizational dynamic that enables the continued success of Zappos.

So, hats off to Robertson for proposing a new way, and to Hseih for continuing to push Zappos to be innovative and cutting edge. One of the core tenants of agility is quick learning, so it is my sincere hope that some good learning emerges – and that what doesn’t work is shed quickly and painlessly.

Photo courtesy of bulldozer00.com
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