Is corporate communication in self-organized companies still needed?

When we decided to move forward into self-organization, I often heard, that corporate communication and marketing no longer will be needed. Self-organized companies would work much more transparent and open, are purpose driven and therefore, fulfill real market needs. Cool! I love being transparent and never have been one of these marketers building castles in the air. But will my daily work really be obsolete? I decided to find it out.

Different approaches of self-organization

As a parallel to working at Liip, I was doing my master’s degree, I used the question in the title to write my thesis[1] about. But where to start? I decided to go for Laloux’ Reinventing Organizations as this was the book mostly talked about at Liip.

With further investigation, I found other approaches like Heyse & Erpenbeck of Malik. Keeping things short, here’s an overview of these 4 approaches:

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Self-Organization – Nothing But Talk?

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It’s incredible how the topic of self-organization emerged over the past few years. In 2016 we reached an amount of attention we had never seen before. We were invited so many times to talk at conferences, in schools, for communities and many big corporations on all levels up to the top management. And the media covered the topic widely. Some in the industry even thought this was a marketing campaign above all. But far from it.

Time to reflect how we got here, why we gained this attention and where we are heading to.

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Holacracy – what’s different in our daily life?

During the Swiss Web Festival, Laurent Prodon and I hold a workshop about the way we are internally structured. We focused on what it changes in our daily life.
Report of the conference.

Find the slides (FR only) Présentation SWF.

What does it change to be working in an enterprise organized according to a non-hierarchical framework?

Laurent and I went through our usual type of brainstorming in order to prepare this conference: we wrote on the walls and used sticky notes. We were divided about how much we should explain what Holacracy is and how much we should tell about how it feels. As we are both passionate personalities, we went through a great deal of debate! However, we settled on what we consider the main differences between a hierarchical management system and a system based on Holacracy.

Organise the work not the people

A classic hierarchical system would be organized according to the people and their position in the enterprise.

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The credo of Holacracy is ‘organise the work, not the people’. It means that we focus on the work to be done, not the people or their position in the enterprise. We think in terms of purposes and the accountabilities they imply.

One person and many role

This is the most important difference for Laurent. The years passing by, he started doing a lot of different things, essential but not necessarily related to his ‘official’ title of Scrum Master. He is supporting the recruitment of new Liipers for example, which is usually related to the HR. He is also doing some Business Development.

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Today, thanks to Holacracy, we defined these many roles. What Laurent does is now clear, for him and for others. Today, we know what we can and can’t expect from him.

With a system such as Holacracy, one person can grasp opportunities to develop his or her potential where it is most needed in the enterprise. No one is stopped by a contract or a statement of work. There is room for evolution. In other words, the employee can work where s/he can help fulfill tasks.

A dynamic organisation

The structure is in a direct connection with the teams and the work to be done. The organisation is subject to change any time. A role can be created, modified or cancelled any time that it feels necessary to its purpose. Furthermore, a role does not intend to fit the whole enterprise, but only to provide a solution to a given difficulty.

As a result, the structure of the organisation is constantly evolving and fits at the closest to the needs of the employees and the work to be fulfilled. The organisation chart always represents the reality, what people are actually doing.
For example, some day, a developer in Lausanne meant that it would be useful to have someone doing some Communication work for the project achieved here. In no-time, the role was created, first embodied internally, and eventually someone – me :) – was hired.

Decision making

That is the most important difference for me. A common issue in hierarchical enterprises is the fact that decision, once taken at the top, have to be applied and mirrored in each department. Often the top management will decide something, and the lower levels of management will undergo the decision in their department. As a specialist, you then end up with a project or a task you do not believe into.

In a system like Holacracy, each person is to take relevant decision in order to fulfill his/her roles’ purpose. In other words, each person decides which objectives, KPIs and task is relevant for his/her role(s). There is no decision taken ‘in theory’ with no knowledge of work field.

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To conclude: the challenges and the joys

We are just humans. There is sometimes a great deal of scepticism; changing how one thinks or one’s habits is a difficult thing. It happens that I even hear trolls at my lunch breaks. However, in the end, we realize that we are part of something really innovative. This is exciting! And the advantages of the system are far greater: we can evolve and develop with our entreprise. Our workplace suits our needs, not the other way around!

 

Pictures at the Swiss Web Festival by Sarah Jaquemet

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Holacracy Habits: Victim Mentality

The main obstacle in implementing Holacracy are habits that need to change. Holacracy pushes us to change our reflexes and habits that used to serve us so well and that’s why it’s so difficult. Identifying the habits is the first step in a successful implementation. One of those habits: playing the victim.

The comfort of playing the victim

In our everyday work life we often run into situation Tensionthat we feel we are unable to influence. The perceived gap between “what is”, the current reality, and “what could be”, the desired state, may seem too big and too deep to overcome. In situations like this we tend to act like we are oppressed by other persons, a process, a role, a persecutor – we start feeling like a victim.

A victim tends to look for someone to blame, feels helpless, powerless and unable to make decisions. Victims put their focus on what they don’t want instead of what they want. And sometimes we get comfortable in this position since playing the victim gives us reasons not to take action in order to close this perceived gap. In order to solve this tension.

Become a creator

In general there are two ways to solve tensions.

One way, and that’s what victims usually do, is to bring your desired state, your “what could be”, one step closer to the current reality. But even if this helped to release your tension, it doesn’t change your position.

The other way  is to bring your current reality, your “what is”, one step closer to your desired state, one step closer to your vision. This, however, requires that you take action and realise that you cannot expect or wait for things to change around you but that you can only change yourself. It  will inevitably change the way you see yourself and the way you see the situations you are in.

Acting on one’s own authority gives you the possibility to switch your focus from problems to results. Mental switches will follow. You’ll start shifting your motivation from wanting problems to go away to focussing on what you can do next to reach your desired state. Ultimately, you will stop being a victim and start becoming a creator.

The pathways in Holacracy

Holacracy will support you in becoming an effective creator by opening up multiple pathways and giving clarity for your next step forward towards your vision.

It empowers you to take any action you deem reasonable to solve your tension, unless it’s explicitly forbidden by clearly documented domains or policies. Explicit roles make it easy for you to know where you can get input from and what you can expect from them during your daily work. Tactical meetings give you the possibility to share or request informations and request next actions or project to be processed by other roles. And if it’s unclear which role can be expected to do what the governance process gives you the possibility to clarify those expectations.

Make a start out of the victim mentality and become a creator by asking yourself: what would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail? What would I do next in order to reach my goal if absolutely anything was possible? The pathways at your disposal will help you figure out what step to take next in order to get there.

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Holacracy Habits: Make Autocratic Decisions

The main obstacle in implementing Holacracy are habits. Holacracy pushes us to change our reflexes and habits that used to serve us so well and that’s why it’s so difficult. Identifying the habits that need to change is the first step in a successful implementation. One of those habits: making decisions.

Traditional decision making

We are used to try to integrate different perspectives of different people while working together. While this sometimes leads to a more accurate and complete overview of the situation and allows for more informed decisions, it is often focussed on personal statements. Am I ok with it? Do I have anything against it?

The lack of clarity in terms of who is responsible for what, manifests in symptoms like tedious Slack discussions or meetings with the goal to integrate every perspective of every group member.

Yet, at the same time, there is always the risk of ignoring or dismissing valuable and critical perspectives, just because they are not shared by the majority or by a leading personality.

The shift in Holacracy

In Holacracy we want to change that by shifting the way decisions are made: by distributing the decision making power to roles instead of people. Every role in a holarchy has the full authority to make decisions on how to act upon its purpose and get work done. And while it no longer gives equal power to every person, it makes every person powerful in their roles.

Having the power to make autocratic decisions in your roles doesn’t mean you should never gather input. If you don’t feel able to make a meaningful decision with the knowledge and data you have at hand in that specific moment, you want to get all the information and advice you need. Having explicit roles in Holacracy makes it even easier for you to identify where you might get that information from and where to ask for advice.

The challenge lies in distinguishing between gathering input and holding back decisions. Keep asking yourself, are you still gathering information to help you make a decision, or are you hoping that others will approve your decision? And do you need others to approve your decision to move further?

It might actually be reasonable to have some other role approve your decisions on specific topics. You just need to know when you need to get approval and when you don’t. One way to achieve that is by making those mandatory advice processes explicit and Holacracy provides the tools to achieve that through roles and accountabilities, domains and policies.

Be aware of your roles

The goal is to raise awareness so that you can distinguish for yourself, if you are able to make an autocratic decision, if you need more information or advice in order to make a decision, if you have to follow a mandatory advice process or if you are just holding back.

So in order to boost your Holacracy implementation, be aware of the authorities of your roles, get advice from others but avoid asking for permission unless required, and make autocratic decisions.

Remember the golden rule of Holacracy:

Everything is allowed that is not explicitly forbidden.

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What is your tension?

Some months ago, before going to the Practitioner training I wrote about Holacracy and my hopes regarding this new way of managing organizations. I’m now back from another 5 day training focused on Holacracy coaching and I’d like to explore a bit further the central concept of Holacracy: tensions.

Tension?

As explained briefly in my first post, theoretically a tension describes a person’s felt sense that there is a gap between the current reality and a potential future (both in a positive or negative sense). Practically, tension processing is something we all do on a daily basis of course: I’m hungry: I go grab something to eat,  I’m tired: I go to bed. Easy right?
Very often though we feel the urge to react but don’t take the time to analyze our tension(s). Which leads to inappropriate reaction (in the sense of “un-filling my tension”) and frustration. We also tend to mix various tensions together which inevitably lead to more frustration. For example, I was talking with Mariusz at the training (a great guy by the way, building a new kind of school in Poland) and someone exposed a common domestic situation: your daughter pushes her little sister, you tell her to stop, only to see her pushing her sister again while looking at you in the eyes! (ah! kids!). As a parent I know very well what my reaction would be: shout at the kid while protecting the little daughter. No need to describe what’s next: everyone is screaming, some are crying, etc…
Now if I take a step back and realize that I’m actually facing 2 different tensions and try to prioritize them, it might help. First I’d probably want to take the little one to a safe place and then only try to understand what is wrong with the big one. See how suddenly there is way less urge in solving the 2nd tension?

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Big hopes about Holacracy

In the next days i’ll be attending a Holacracy course and i wished to take some time to think about my feelings and hopes with this new system of company organization.

Holacracy?

Holacracy is part of the more generic “Teal”/”Self-management” movement. The goal of this post is not to detail precisely what Holacracy is, but to keep it short let’s say that it aims at defining an alternative to the hierarchical structures we are all used to, taking as basis the motto “organize the work, not the people”. The first time i heard about it was at our annual “conference” where someone from management gave a talk titled “Let’s get rid of management” (yes, someone from management!! That’s also why i love working at Liip!). I was quite sceptical at first and had concerns about the potential chaos this could lead to, but after reading the “official” book i must admit i’m quite excited about this new paradigm! Since then i realized that Holacracy is very far from chaos: it just replaces a hierarchical structure with a more organic -very structured- one. So it’s not “about getting rid of management” but rather “let’s find a new way to organize ourselves”. Liip is very interested in moving to “self-management” in general, but the exact implementation (through Holacracy for ex.) is still uncertain.

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