What are you doing on Tuesday? Or why Percolab has open team meetings.

“Well, why don’t you just come to one of our team meetings?” I say to the barista, “They are every Tuesday from 10 am to noon at the ECTO Coworking.”

He nods seriously and notes the time and place on a napkin behind the counter. I pick up my latte and wander off to one of the tables in the corner to work out a team budget proposal for one of our upcoming projects.

Inviting not-so-random folks to Percolab’s team meetings has become one of my everyday practices. I must extend at least 5 or 10 of these invitations a week. Sometimes these invitations are received as a gift and a possibility, like in the case of this barista who has just finished a graduate degree in urban planning and is interested in citizen co-design and consultation – one of Percolab’s areas of expertise. He had recognized me from a strategic planning session I had facilitated for one of the units at the university he attended.

Other times, the invitations are received by eyes wide with disbelief as though I had invited this human I have just met to my Sunday family brunch: please bring the mimosas and then you can go jump on the trampoline with the kids and Matante Guylaine.

“Why would you invite me to a team meeting?” said human demands, “Don’t you deal with, like, internal stuff at your meetings?”

“Yes,” I confirm, “we deal with internal stuff. Some of it is strategic, some of it is operational, some of is has to do with our personal dynamics, the first Tuesday of the month is about Percolab International. Some meetings deal with money and how we self-attribute our earnings, sometimes we even process conflicts in our team meetings. Like I said, Tuesday at 10 am – you should just come participate.”

“Um, OK, I can come observe,”says the human, “I am really curious. I won’t be distracting. I promise.”

“Yeah…well… no, that won’t work,” I reply with a suppressed smile, “I’m not inviting you to come observe us. We are people not hamsters. I’m inviting you to come be with us, to participate. Help us think through our challenges and issues, bring in all of your experience, and intelligence, and wisdom, contribute to our decision-making.”

“Really?” the human inquires, “But you only just met me! How can I understand all of your context and policies and regulations? How can I possibly contribute to decision-making? What will your boss say?”

“Well, to start off with there are no bosses at Percolab, we are a truly flat organization and we make decisions through a consent-based approach. And of course you can’t possibly understand everything we are about. But attending a team meeting is sure a more effective way of getting to know us than reading our “About” page online. If we are discussing an issue that needs to be decided upon and you, from your understandably limited perspective, are able to see a potential risk to the organization, we are gonna listen and take that into account as we move forward.”

“OK,” says the human – I can see that they are getting really curious, “but will I be the only stranger there?”

“I have no idea,” I say, “we’ll know when you show up! Some weeks we have no guests (we don’t call them strangers), often we have one or two, and a few times when several members have been out working with clients, we have had three times as many guests as Percolab members! Those weeks are usually great for brainstorming about issues we’ve been trying to work through, like rethinking our website.”

“Doesn’t it get exhausting having new people at your meetings every week?” inquires the human.

“It can be,” I admit, “Some weeks I’ve been downright grumpy about having to host new people into a team meeting, especially when there is a topic that is really important to me. Yet, again and again, I find our guests help me think through some tough questions about both our work with clients and how we work together as a team. Especially, if the person doesn’t “get” what we do easily, it challenges us to be clearer in how we speak about ourselves and cleaner in how we work together. So I might arrive grumpy but I almost always leave energized… coffee helps.”

“What type of people come to your meetings?” they ask.

“Some of the guests at meetings are interested in collaborating with us, some want to study us for academic purposes, some attend our meetings so they can learn about self-management and maybe even bring new practices to their own organizations, some are international experts passing through Montreal who want to jam with us, some are clients we already work with or are thinking of working with us – attending our meetings gives them a really good practical sense of our applied knowledge. One of my favourite things to do is invite all the participants in my workshops to come to a team meeting. You should see their faces!”

“OK, I’m in!” exclaims my new human friend, “I’ve been wanting to learn about self-management for a long time but I haven’t been too sure if my team is ready for it. Seeing it in action would really be helpful. It makes me feel a lot better to think that I won’t just be some voyeur and I can contribute with any knowledge or experience I already have. I find this idea of open meetings really inspiring and unusual. You guys sure are brave to do this!”

“Well…” I respond cautiously. I want to be able to accept this compliment but at the same time I am slightly irked that this practice that I find so normal is deemed as brave. “Well, we have a choice: we can talk about collaboration or actually experiment and experience what it is like to work with “strangers”. We can talk about transparency or open ourselves up to others so we can truly be seen, for better or worse, and understand ourselves and our blind spots better. We can talk about collective intelligence or actively engage in thinking with other people who come from really different backgrounds. To me and to probably everyone else at Percolab too, opening up our team meetings is a practical benefit to the organization, the generosity people show us by sharing their insights into our work is amazing. But opening our team meetings is also a meaningful and symbolic act: we are a fractal of how we would like organizations to function in the world. Imagine, if governments and institutions and corporations and foundations and community organizations had as their base model meetings that were open, transparent, collaborative, and drew on collective intelligence? Just that. Imagine that. ”

“Whoa!” says the human, “I’m gonna need to wrap my mind around that one. Maybe we can talk about that after the meeting on Tuesday.”

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The city of the future is the one people narrate together

Guest Author: Mary Alice Arthur, Get Soaring

If you’ve ever been to Montreal, you will have experienced the vibrant hum of the city. It is a city that has distinctive neighbourhoods and an international flavour, and it is also a city committed to exploring and vitalising diversity. 2017 marks 375 years for Montreal and the city is helping to mark the celebration by making a public process of community storytelling.

Imagine, if you will wooden circular structures popping up in the midst of St Catherines walking street or in your local neighbourhood. They look very much like an open basket, because that was their inspiration.

Their intention is to create a network of points in space that transform people’s narrative about where they are and how they inhabit the space. Although they appear like little separate pods, they are all connected to the element of surprise and forming community, enabling people who sit in them to imagine space in a different way and create possibilities that were not there before.

They are called Nacelles, a French word meaning the basket of a hot air balloon, but conceptually pointing to network or multiplicity. In a tangible, physical way, they create a commons, a place to gather and share. By their very shape, they create an interesting bounded object in a public space in the shape of a circle. You’re exposed like you would be in public space, but you have a container of intimacy, and intentional collaborative moments in conversation. The nacelles create intimacy while you’re outside.

Each Nacelle is a set of pre-fabricated pieces which are easy to build together in about 20 minutes. In fact, the very act of building them starts creating community. They are about 12 feet in diameter, and seat around 12 – 15 people on two tiers of benches with a small table in the middle. But they are also permeable. People can stand outside the structure and lean in, making it possible to take part in something, even if you’ve just arrived.

Using these structures for public dialog and storytelling is the brainchild of French-based group Comm1possible. It fits seamlessly into Montreal-based practice Percolab‘s approach to dialogue and storytelling. Cédric Jamet explains: “We need more ways to connect people than social networks. The “smart city” as we think about it, is not enough. We need structures that allow us to do this in a real and physical way. That’s how Nacelles emerged.

“There was a consciousness around the circle as a way to connect people that informed the structure of the Nacelle. The idea of the city of the future is a city created by the people who live in it. Nacelles become a physical representation of that.

This project around inclusion is also around sharing individual stories, and what comes up is a common story of inclusion.

“When we think about it, this project around inclusion is also around sharing individual stories, and what comes up is a common story of inclusion. Nacelles help create a commons. The original idea was how can we experiment to create urban commons and cities as commons. That’s where it came from and where it’s headed. Really at the heart of the project is the idea of what becomes possible when we build the spaces we live in together.”

“The physical structure invites curiosity. And when you go over the threshold of curiosity it invites in relationship,” says Elizabeth Hunt. “One of our upcoming projects is around diversity and multi-culturalism with a borough of Montreal. Around their multi-cultural citizen day, we will be working with storytellers in the nacelles and then we will invite citizens with their own stories of how to shift the dominant discourse from integration to one of inclusion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It’s about building this together, shared responsibility. People show up with strollers, walking their dog. When a whole bunch of different kinds of people are there, you have the permission to go see. It’s a strange attractor. You enter the structure as strangers and emerge as allies. We are continuing to ask ourselves how we can use Nacelles as a collective sensemaking structure.”

Cedric chimes in again: “It shapes a bunch of things, experimenting with the Nacelle as a natural way to inclusion. We all have a relationship to this theme, whether we are born here or not, came here or not. I was hosting during the storytelling process – the storyteller was indigenous and his theme was around what it is to welcome and host people in. I was thinking ‘I’m an immigrant here. I’m French originally. I have a colonial background in me.’ Everyone who participated and shared stories verbalized their connection to this place in ways that were not anticipated. There’s something that happens when story gets shared and space gets held. Holding space is the condition for emergence. Something special happens.”

Elizabeth agrees, even though her story is completely different: “I’m born and bred in Montreal – same hospital as my dad – 11 – 15 generations each side. Those streets I’ve walked as a child, my parents, my grandparents also walked. I graduated from University on those steps over there. I had supper with someone there a few blocks over. My relationships to this space – what else is possible in my relationship to this city – is forever transformed by being there with the nacelles. We can transform an area into a storytelling platform, what else can we do in terms of moulding this city?”

Percolab has been partnering with French company Comm1Possible, which developed the concept and has used the nacelles in France and Morocco. Percolab is their only North American partner, but it seems obvious that the nacelles are far more than a way of creating community conversation and storytelling.  Even the way the two organisations are working together is seeking to create a commons out of the application of nacelles.

“Nacelles help create a commons,” Cedric tells me. “Then there’s the whole aspect of how we work together — if our purpose is to create commons, then Nacelles itself has to be a commons. That’s what we’re building on with Comm1Possible – how do we develop the system supporting Nacelles that is thought of and lived as a commons? Yes, there’s the object, but there’s a whole philosophy and business model that goes around it.”

Elizabeth continues: “We haven’t explored the questions, but the physicality of it invites the questions – how do we share this? Who does it belong to? How do we share the decisions? What is our vision for greater social change? We’re trying to work a commons based agreement – our working relationship is a commons relationship.”

In the end, it comes back to the magic of creating a space for people to narrate their common future.

As Cedric says: “The more people there are in the Nacelle, the more the Nacelle becomes invisible and it becomes a circle that’s about people. When we were using them on St Catherine and I walked away for a few minutes, I could see a conglomerate of people, but you couldn’t see the Nacelles. It was like a bunch of grapes but you can’t see the stem. It is an architecture that is holding people together but that you can’t see when its working well – it becomes invisible. That’s a metaphor for excellent hosting work.”

 

Find the original post by Mary Alice Arthur

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Collective sense-making as practice

Semi-structured co-learning across projects, domains, territories

Collective sense making is not evaluation nor debate. Very simply it requires some common themes which serve as common language or filters through which to think together about work that is very different. The common filters honor what is specific of what is happening in each place or domain and invite in a common language and thinking angle.

Recently I joined the European university of public sector territorial innovation for a 3 day adventure with over 200 people structured around 16 real projects from multiple countries. I was invited as an external witness, a healthy innovation practice, and was invited to intervene at the closing session. My task was to bridge between the event itself and the future via my external observations and insights. It was an invitation to work in emergence, with no possibility to plan ahead; this is the zone in which I thrive.

 At the end of the three days, I spoke to the group on the importance of prototyping as a rapid learning process, imperfect doing in order to gain information and insights. I reminded us all that co-creation requires being explicit with ourselves and the group on our commitment and contribution level. It is ok to be involved intensely and then step out, as long as it is made known. And then I finished on the topic of collective sense-making as a key process to help see more systemically. It is this point I wish to share in more detail.

I invited participants to identify some themes that could be interesting for us all. I do love how I can trust human beings and their intelligence and natural care. The themes that emerged were:

#citizeninvolvement

#coherence

#interdisciplinarity

There was no need to modify or improve upon these themes. They came straight from those who had lived the three days together. They would serve us for our collective sense making. We needed only to trust that that they were helpful themes for us.

I invited everyone to spend 5 minutes in silence to write whatever came up for them around these themes and our last three days of exploration around public sector innovation via the projects. Just a raw 5 minute writing time to prepare us for our collective sense-making.

Then it was time to step into conversations in pairs. Again, I reminded everyone to help each other not fall into debate or evaluation culture and to find someone who they had not met and who had worked on a different project than them. We had 15 minutes together in co-learning around our agreed themes.

There was some hesitation and then the entire room delved into deep conversation. Afterwards we had a share back and people spoke to how this had brought forward insights, anchored learning and made connections. People spoke of the delight to be in this type of flowing conversation with depth. The process was received as a gift. Some even used the term “soothing”. It does feel good to step back from our daily work, and converse with someone we don’t even know. Having a light “container” of shared themes and a little bit of solo time helps us access the deeper learnings that are ready to surface. It is about the sweet spot between chaos and order that allows generative emergence.

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How does an organisation shift to self-management?

Thinking about shifting to self-management or wondering if your way of self-governing can be fine tuned? In my previous article What is self-management, really? I explore what is and what isn’t self-management via percolab’s story. This article goes into the details of how percolab went about setting up a role-based self-management system. As a word of context, percolab is a non-conventional company and we had realized that we required a bit more structure in how we self-organise our company.

There is a different way to structure our organisations based on “roles“. A role based structure means:

  1. Thinking about an organisation based on its purpose and all the roles and responsabilities that allow the organisation to meet its purpose;
  2. Leaving behind job profiles and job titles. Different people can take on different roles at different times – there is a flow and adaptability with roles; and
  3. Distributing the authority (decision making power) throughout the organisation via the roles.

Percolab recently shifted to such a role-based structure. As a team of process designers we were very deliberate in how we went about setting up our roles structure. We are sharing it now in the hope it will help others on their paths towards self-management.

Identifying our company roles 

Roles are already within our organisations and companies, we just need to listen in and make them explicit. To identify ours, I put on my role identifying hat for a few months. I resisted  the temptation to look outside the company because that would lead to thinking about what roles we “should have”. Over 9 years our company has grown into its own way of functioning and this is the organic base we wanted to work with.

Honing on the daily life of the company helped to come up with a preliminary list of roles. What is the company up to? What are people talking about? Where are the questions and tensions?  In all, 32 roles revealed themselves. I gave them some placeholder titles: Banker, Legal protector, Keeper of our workshop offer, Video producer.  The work was done as an open and transparent process, as per self-management principles. Now we were ready to begin the collective process.

Writing our roles together

Writing the roles as the team allowed us to benefit from the team’s collective intelligence. Also, it was an active way for us to process the shift to roles.

At a team meeting we reminded ourselves of the reasons we were shifting to roles. We drew on the wall the basic structure every role should have (inspired by Holacracy):

  • Role title: clear and aligned to our culture;
  • Role purpose: a short statement;
  • Role accountabilities: tasks and decision making authority;
  • Role metrics: specific indicators that help the team see if the role is being well stewarded.

We shared a draft role to exemplify these elements.

Title: Banker

Purpose: Reduce financial stress of all members of the collective, collaborators and organisations with whom we have transactions.

Accountabilities

  • Based on laws and obligations, foresee financial provisions and make all necessary payments to the government and documenting them.
  • Act as contact for percolab with the government, documenting key information, exchanges or situations.
  • Emit checks, once documentation duly completed and if appropriate, approved.
  • Inform members if a difficult financial situation arises and work through it openly and collectively.

Metrics

  • Financial stress of members is low – collective average of no more than 2/10 each month.
  • Payments are made within 30 days.
  • No penalties or interest to the government

We agreed that each team member would be responsible for writing 4 or 5 roles. The 32 titles and notes were laid out on the table.  Each team member chose the roles that he or she wanted to write.

Then we agreed on the process as follows:

  • We would set up a wiki (mediawiki) and each person would insert his/her first drafts of roles over a few weeks.
  • For each role, we would each invite two team members to iterate it forward using their wisdom and experience.

Through this writing process, each of us was now familiar with more than one third of the 32 roles. We all committed to reading ALL the roles prior to the next workshop to have a system view of the roles.

Adopting and attributing our roles

We held a 2.5 hour workshop to attribute the roles. The workshop process went as follows:

  1. We began with a short reminder of the purpose of roles. They are NOT job titles. We will all be stewarding multiple roles and we will be rotating our roles over time. Roles are aligned to the company’s purpose.  (5 min)
  2. We checked in by answering the question  “What color are we feeling?”.  This gave space to our apprehensions. (5 min)
  3. We took 30 minutes in small groups to discuss and review the roles that were speaking to us.  We brought back to the team 3 proposals for improvements.  If anyone had any significant issues with any content,  it was being heeded.  We quickly fielded the proposals following the integrated decision making process (Holacracy). (50 min)
  4. We discussed and agreed on the implementation date for the new role system.  This was the official day when authority (decision making power) would no longer lie with the co-founders. and when team members would take on their expanded responsibilities. (30 min)
  5. We attributed each of the roles via a multi-step process. We wrote the names of roles on index cards and laid them before us. We each wrote on the cards who we thought was best situated for stewarding that role and we could not put our own name. We took a moment to take in the collective perspective that had been revealed. Then, each person identified two roles she had energy to steward and  named it as a proposal. The group let the person know if there were any objections. If none then the roles were considered attributed. The next round, each person proposed one more role and again we verified for objections. A final round whereby anyone could propose anyone for the remaining roles. Again quick checks to see if there was any opposition until all roles were attributed. (55 minutes)
  6. We closed by each responding to the question What colour are we feeling now? (5 min) 

This image sums up the workshop. The inner circle represents our check-in colours and the outer circle our colours after roles had been adopted, attributed and an implementation date agreed upon.

roles (2)

By our in-house artist, Roch!

We updated the wiki with all the information. In the end, we landed 30 roles and a shared role that clarified what each of us in the circle was accountable for (project management and project work).

Lessons

1. Process design is key. Self-managing principles should be embodied in the way the shift to self-management takes place.

2. Self-management is a never-ending process of learning – about the broader functions of an organisation, our own capacity and confidence to step into roles and collaboration and trust.

3. It’s about the roles, not the people.

Next up, an article on the implementation process.

*It should be noted that in percolab’s case everyone within the company  has the role “0” Project work – the intention is to work, learn, have fun and advance the company and our domain. The role involves generating, leading and contributing to projects.

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Am I a commoner?

Do you think of yourself as a commoner? What makes us a commoner? 

Recently I was guest speaker at a public conversation on the theme What shifts when we approach our world as a commoner? jointly organized by the University of the Streets Café (Concordia University) and the Montreal Art of Hosting community. I took the invitation as a space and opportunity to get clarity on how and when I came into my identity as a commoner.

Fifteen years ago I was employed as a techno-pedagogue, working with open source applications and open culture. Operating in this paradigm of open values just made so much sense to me. One particular online learning project I had contributed energy and dedication to was attributed a business model that locked the publicly-funded content behind virtual fee-based walls. I struggled as this action made no real business sense and threatened the accessibility of the quality content, but I did not have a commoning framework to refer to. I felt that something was deeply wrong but I had not yet connected to any concept of knowledge as a commons. This was one of the small but significant catalysts that led me to co-found our social enterprise, percolab, dedicated to developing our collective capacity to collaborate and innovate. Despite situating percolab as a social enterprise and the clarity of our intention, the commoner in me still hadn’t awoken.

Instead of renting out traditional office space for percolab, I spent two years cofounding a coworking cooperative with others. It took time to collectively move forward: for 14 people to come together, to find our shared clarity and together create a formal organization. It was so self-evident that our coworking should have a cooperative legal structure that it took a few years for me to realize that, though the coworking movement is exploding across the planet, cooperatives are few and far between. Though I was committed to ensuring that the cooperative had an agile and enlivening co-governance, back then I did not see that within our coworking we are commoning.

Later I discovered and joined the international Art of Hosting community,  a multilingual self-organizing network working in complexity for the common good.  This community practices collective stewardship and the sharing culture in a way that feels like we are in the future, and yet I wasn’t yet seeing it as commoning.

It is through the invitation of somebody who is clearly a commoner, Alain Ambrosi, that the light finally turned on and I got to “see” the commons. Alain invited me to facilitate a Commons breakfast conversation with guest Frédéric Sultan. During this delightful event hosted by Communautique, Alain shared his (continually evolving) definition of the commons and printed it out on a thoughtfully folded long sheet of paper that each person could preciously unfold. To this day that definition lives on my fridge:

We speak of a commons each time a community of people is united by a similar desire to care for a ressource that it is has inherited or created, and self-organizes in a democratic, friendly and responsible way to ensure access, use and sustainability in the general interest and the care for the ‘good living’ together and the ‘good living’ of future generations.

A few months later, Alain invited me and a few fellow Montrealers to attend the Economics and the Commons Conference in Berlin. Saying yes to this invitation was an act of fully entering into a new identity: Samantha Slade, commoner. It is a like a new pair of glasses that I wear. These glasses pull everything into focus and suddenly I have the clarity to understand that yes, working with open source, open content and open culture values is commoning, the coworking coop is commoning, and the capacity building that percolab nurtures is in support of commoning. Things begin to make sense in a connected way. This thread was being woven all these years of my life through my emphasis on a sharing culture, self-organizing mindset, collective empowerment and care for the common good. Like Dorothy, I had it all along. I just needed a little prodding and reassurance from someone who could help me see.

With that awareness of the commons comes a new responsibility — maybe that is why I was nervously dancing around the term all that time. What is this responsibility? Much like Alain’s ever shifting definition of the commons, it is something that will continue to unfold.

For the time being, I notice that the public conversation helped me loop all the way back in my identity as a commoner. I give thanks to conversations that offer moments of reflection with others to make sense of the complexity we live in.

conversation_publique_2

By Samantha Slade

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