Going Horizontal: How do you really want to work?

Curiosity and excitement about horizontal organizations coexist with concerns and cynicism. Most of today’s work force is disengaged and the current ways of working won’t be able to take us into our future. Even if we know all this, we still struggle to figure out what to do come Monday morning.

What if we stepped back to reexamine how we really want to be working?

For over 10 years I have been using our company, Percolab, as a lab of  how an organization can function. With clients, colleagues and international friends, we try things out and sense make, in a never ending learning process. In 2016 I began offering workshops on the topic: Demystifying Self-Management. They helped people connect with the notion and explore some basic elements. In 2017, at SXSW in the USA, with Edwin Jansen, we gave a panel on Growing a Company without Bosses. It was a provocation and we were stunned by the response.

Weeks later I signed a book contract with my favorite publisher, Berrett-Koehler: Going Horizontal: Creating a Non-hierarchical Organization, One Practice at a Time. It is a practical book. It builds on the fabulous work in the field of new ways of working, such as Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations. Going Horizontal is all about the practice. It offers seven domains of practice to help anchor new habits and mindset as they develop. But Going Horizontal is more than a book, it is also a community and a series of practical trainings.

A conversation on the Future of Organizations with Frederic Laloux at the annual conference of the Quebec society of HR professionals

Who shows up at a Going Horizontal training?

In Antwerp, Belgium, six countries were in the room. Some people had specific questions while others wanted to make sense of their own experimentations. In Quebec City, Canada, workers from a pulp and paper factory joined Lawyers without Borders, an IT professional (recovering from a less than satisfactory foray into self-management), and consultants and students. Going Horizontal connects across domains and job titles.

A deep dive in Spain

The next stop is in Spain the 11-14th October, 2018 for a four day residential training in a castle in the middle of a 200 hectare forest outside of Barcelona. Beyond the enchanting venue, will be a unique learning experience. This training is offered by a powerful international team:

  • Dr. Salvador García, professor in Personal Development, Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation at the University of Barcelona,  Founder of Imagine Lab, Author of “Management by Values” and “Values Intelligence” and one of the top business speakers in Spain.
  • Carolina Escobar Mejía, Agile coach and Founder of the horizontal organization Somos Mas
  • Phoebe Tickell, Learning innovator and Social entrepreneur with Enspiral NZ & Schumacher College UK.
  • Nil Roda-Naccari Noguera from Percolab Spain and yours truly from Percolab Quebec

The day to day challenges of participants will be the basis of the program. The seven domains of practice of the Going Horizontal framework will help to grow our strengths and overcome our blind spots. Together we are exploring the new rich and yet unexplored territory of all that Going Horizontal can be.  Via each training the community grows as participants can become champions of horizontal practices in their local context.

If this speaks to you, please join us in Spain! If you know someone who should be there, please let them know.

Either way you can pre-order the book Going Horizontal now via Amazon.

If you would like to collaborate to offer a Going Horizontal training or virtual book club in your area, please contact info@percolab.com

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The future is in business as commons | Samantha Slade | TEDxGeneva

The future is in business as commons. In a world where business models are changing and even the traditional notion of work has lost its fit with current paradigms, Samantha Slade an innovator and pioneer in organizational and business models will present a new organization mindset focused on compensation as conversation, co-governance and sharing and collaboration.

Samantha is driven by the transition to future paradigms. With a background in anthropology, she pioneers novel organizational models and practices. Ten years ago she co-founded two businesses – Percolab, an international co-creation and co-design company and Ecto a co-working cooperative in her home city Montreal, Canada. Samantha works with governments, startups, and professional associations and foundations to tackle their complex challenges. She also co-creates commons-based collective impact initiatives and platforms. Engaged in the commons and social innovation movements, Samantha is currently writing a book – Going Horizontal – Creating a Non-hierarchical Organization, One Practice at a Time (to be released in October 2018 with Berrett-Koehler Publishers). Samantha believes that organizations can be a microcosm of the world we want to live in.

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Pulling on the self-managing thread: The Regitex experience

Lisa Fecteau

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in October, we sat down with Lisa Fecteau, founder and owner of Regitex, to ask a few questions about her company’s approach to self-management. As we settled into her cozy kitchen with a cup of tea, she was curious about Percolab and why we wanted to interview her. We shared that Percolab has been self-managed since it’s inception, and as we are continually growing, we’ve made our practices and structures more explicit. We even train other organizations as they make the shift to self-management. We are always hungry to learn from other self-managed organizations, especially in other sectors. Regitex is just about as different as it gets from Percolab.

Lisa founded Regitex with her brother in 1998. Regitex manufactures yarns used in the production of protective garments (think firefighter’s uniforms), technical yarns for medical purposes (think bandages), and high-tech yarns used for a range of other purposes (like hosiery). Regitex does straight-up industrial production: raw materials come into the factory, machines are used to transform them, finished products come out of the factory, and then shipped all around the world.

When I think of this kind of industrial structure I think of foremen and plant managers. I think of a boss and the boss’ boss and of the boss’ boss’ boss. My imagination might even conjure a cigar-puffing owner living on a yacht somewhere far away: totally disengaged with the people who work for him and totally engaged with the profits they generate.

I seem to have a very narrow and staid (maybe even stale) view of what it means to run a factory. And Lisa Fecteau, with her unassuming manner, was turning that view on its head.

Regitex’s move to self-management did not happen in a burst of inspiration. It was a long, slow progression of small steps that carved out a self-managing path for the organization’s functioning. In the intervening years between the company’s founding and shift to self-management, Lisa bought out her brother’s shares in the company (thus becoming sole owner) and the company made the move from manufacturing yarn for fashion and furniture (its first market) to the protective textile focus it has now. As the manufacturing capacity and number of employees grew, Lisa decided to connect with her employees directly. For a period of 2.5 years she did rounds of interviews every 6 months. Sitting down with teams, and sometimes individuals, Lisa would ask questions so she could learn about their perception of the company. Sometime after the 5th round of interviews she realized that she had heard enough about the dissatisfaction and issues that were arising, and that nothing had significantly changed between round 1 and round 5 of interviews.

She had no idea what to do but decided she would just sit with it for a while

It all started to unblock with the need to hire a new Director of Production. After a long and unsatisfactory search for the right person, Regitex’s Director of Human Resources presented Lisa with an interesting alternative: what if instead of hiring a single director of production they created a Production Team comprised of existing employees who carried production know-how because of their work within the company.

Within a short time it became apparent that the team approach was more efficient and led to better decision-making because the Production Team had direct access to the information they needed to run things smoothly. Lisa and her HR director started experimenting with creating more of a team-based approach within the company to see how this would work out. The enthusiasm for self-managing practices was spreading across the company.

So Lisa left.

I didn’t expect that turn in the story. Lisa explained that had been sensing that she was still too much at the centre of the company and that instead of gently propelling it along towards self-management, her presence was holding them back. She completely withdrew from all operations and administration and didn’t set foot in the factory for months. “It was painful,” she confides, “I felt like I wasn’t needed anymore.”

Upon her return they decided to abolish all titles and job descriptions, including those in upper management, and move to a role-based system. They determined which were the functions that needed to happen for the organization to run smoothly, and then invited employees to self-nominate for the roles they found interesting. The roles were adapted to the logistical challenges of a company that works with day, evening, and night shifts, and the obligations outlined in their collective labour agreement.

Because, yes, Regitex is a unionized workplace.

While we were surprised and intrigued by this information, Lisa seemed unfazed about our union-related questions. For her, a key element to self-management is about trusting people’s common sense and ability to make thoughtful decisions – if you just give them enough space. In recent months, Regitex had a couple of grievances filed against them – not by internal employees, but by the union’s syndicate head office. At a formal meeting between herself, Regitex’s internal union reps and the syndicate’s official representatives, the grievances were quickly withdrawn when the Regitex employees made it clear that they had complete decision-making authority over their working conditions.

As a new collective agreement is in the works for early 2018, a strategic planning committee has been created to ensure that both Regitex’s interests and its employees’ needs are reflected in the next contract. Participation in the committee is voluntary (like everything else at Regitex) and those who have stepped forward to steer it also happen to be the company’s internal union reps. Which, in essence, means that the company’s administration has entrusted its unionized employees to make key decisions that directly impact the company and that unionized employees are considering the company interests and well-being while planning its side of the collective agreement.

As the daughter of a unionized blue collar worker, this reality is worlds away from the divisive power struggles and politicking I imagine when I think of contract agreements between unionized employees and the boss’ boss’ boss. I remember my Dad white-knuckling it through collective agreement processes in the 80’s that did not for a moment consider the interconnectedness of either the employees’ or employer’s ecosystems.

So what’s next for self-management at Regitex? They are investing in internal training for more employees to learn how to coach each other, improving the communications and other organizing systems, and exploring how profit-sharing could be done in a clear and equitable way. For Lisa, her personal next steps involve connecting with what is quickly becoming an international movement around self-management (Percolab’s own Samantha Slade is writing a book on the topic) to share Regitex’s experience.

When asked if she has a nugget of wisdom to share with us about her experience with Regitex, Lisa responds without hesitation: If you want to shift to self-management do less, not more. Don’t try to create all kinds of new initiatives. Pull back for a while, observe, watch, create space, and leave this space open for newness to emerge. That’s when stuff starts to happen.

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What is the pay system you dream of? Beyond the taboo of money

As an employee for 16 years, I was thankful for my regular pay checks. I never really gave a thought to how I would dream of being paid.  In 2007, I co-founded my own company and I was faced with the freedom and possibility of all that compensation could potentially be. A journey began.

At the start, submerged in the business of starting a business, my associate and I agreed on a model that was a cinch to administrate, though somewhat naive: equal salary. No need to waste time tallying up who is bringing in more business or debating who has more value. All company earnings go into a collective « pot » and equal pay comes out, irrelevant of what each person put in. A bit idealistic you might say? Yes. The model requires similar work experience, similar weekly work hours and similar vacation time. And of course it also requires sufficient revenues for all.

As the company grew, we realized we wanted to offer freedom and possibility for people to create the working rhythm and pace that suits their needs and desires. We didn’t want to systematize any obligations, giving preference to diversity and modularity. This meant that we needed to move on to a different compensation model.

Initially, we were attracted to an algorithm based compensation model. We were inspired by Buffer’s approach. They even have a transparent salary calculator whereby you can find out how much you would make if you worked there.   What were the variables that could help us establish our own contextualized formula?

After a bit of in house exploration we crafted a proposal for the team with our percolab variables as complexity of the work, experience and risk. We held a team workshop and each of us plugged in numbers to try to see if the formula would work for us. Major flop! The process revealed that working abstractly with numbers caused us to create a collective salary budget much higher than the funds available. We were operating from a dream scenario rather than reality. This is when it started becoming clear that the path to fair and equitable pay required the whole team to understand money flows of our company.

But how could we do this? The regular salary model offers stability and regularity of bi-monthly pay checks of fixed amounts as well as benefits. We generally have little influence or involvement in this approach as it is directly linked to an organisation’s budget and pay scale.  The freelancer model offers flexibility and autonomy around our earnings as we are responsible for negotiating our own contractual agreements. The latter model usually comes with extra administrative burden and stress to be able to ensure regular and sufficient pay. Was there a way to blend the advantages of these models together?

Things were becoming clearer. Not only did we want self-set salaries but we also wanted to allow for variance from month to month in the amount each person was earning or wanted to work. As simple as that, we broke free from our fixed salaries and stepped into a negotiated agreements model that we also call variable self-determined salaries.  In so doing, we each gained control over our earnings, began benefiting from a shared administrative system and were better able to leverage the collective work opportunities amongst ourselves to help ensure regular and sufficient pay for all.

Our percolab model goes like this.

  1. Each project has a project lead and project budget parameters (projects can be client based and others not)
  2. A fixed percentage of the project goes to the company  to cover our collective services  (our beautiful office, insurances, web services, resources, business development, accounting, work tools etc.) and development.
  3. Together, the project team (anyone in the team) discusses and makes financial agreements based the project honorarium budget, with full transparency. We strive for a feeling of fairness and there is freedom in how agreements are made
  4. Administration of the compensation model is carried out in a distributed, collective way.  Percolab team members keep track of their agreements with standardized tools and are responsible for their own data entry into the online book keeping system (WaveApps). The project lead takes care of all agreements, invoicing and billing with external contractors, clients and suppliers.
  5. Any challenges with a project that have consequences on the budget are managed within the project with the team and do not overflow onto the company.

Each month any percolab member is involved in multiple projects (as lead, team member or business development).  Therefore your salary is the sum of the work you accomplished that month in each project as per your agreements.

For the system to work, everyone needs to make explicit their work availability and skills they can offer or wish to develop within projects.

Suddenly it was if each person was injected with more space, freedom and creativity to sculpt their ideal professional world. A new service went from idea to reality and the team was stepping up to greater challenges  than ever before. Having control over ones earnings reveals itself as a key lever for empowerment and leadership. Services and business development grew. With hindsight it seems evident that for people to be in their full potential having control over their pay is a key condition.  

Underlying principles

  1. Engagement is commiserate with our power to self-determine our own salary and expenses. Each person is responsible for the salary they want to earn.
  2. Practicing conversations around value helps us to better own our own value.
  3. Our relationship with money is not a taboo, but a skill that can be developed.

Impact

This flexible compensation model has supported us getting beyond our assumptions and fears around pay. It helps us get to deeper conversations around value and to work with money without it being the finality. The potential of a team is strengthened through this compensation as practice approach. More specifically:

  1. Individual: We are all even more responsible and engaged. Each person is finding her own balance with how much she wants to be working, earning, learning, playing and making their personal projects come to action. We are each developing skills around money, business and value.
  2. Teams: More solidarity, mutual support and good spirit.
  3. Organization: More initiatives and entrepreneurship and more revenues.

Lessons

1. A compensation model is meant to be energizing a team forward – if that is no longer the case, then try out a different model. It’s as easy as that.

2. A compensation model can be flexible and self-managing

3. A flexible negotiated compensation model can be an enormous driver of individual, team and organisational development.

If you want to know more about this model and the tools that support its functioning, contact Samantha Slade sam@percolab.com

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Art of Asking for Help

How comfortable are you at asking for help? How clear are your requests for help?

Have you ever thought that we can improve our asking for help skills and even approach asking for help as a practice? Our awareness of the specific type of help we are asking for and the words we use to ask for help can be fine-tuned. Indeed, the more our request for help is precise the higher our chances of obtaining the help we actually want and avoid frustrations on both sides (feelings of not being heard or not being appreciated).

At percolab we have developed a simple tool to support the development of our asking for help culture. We have seen how it can open up space and deconstruct preset minds. We have noticed that it can work with everyone.

Before you dive into the typology, think of a moment when you offered help recently and think of a moment when you asked for help recently.

Jot down your examples and then read through the typology and see where they fit. If your examples are not in the typology, let me know so the typology can evolve and strengthen with our collective intelligence.

1. Ask me questions (coaching)

2. Show me how to . . . (demonstrate)

3. Tell me information or perspective (local knowledge/experience based)

4. Give me expert advice (expertise based)

5. Think creatively with me (idea generation)

6. Give me feedback on my idea, model etc. (enriching)

7. Be my audience/participant (practice)

8. Provide me moral support (emotion)

9. Give me a hand… (physical, action help)

10. Loan/give me something (material support)

11. Protect and care for me (abuse support)

12. Make sense with me (intellectual/intuitive)

13. Motivate me (kick in the butt)

14. Step in with/for me (solidarity)

15. Can you listen to me (attention)

Now, write down two requests for help using the typology. Go and ask someone for help. If the person can’t answer the first request, try the second one. How was that? Did you notice a difference?

As collaboration and participatory leadership are on the rise, our capacity to excel at asking for help is becoming all the more important. The time of the hero leader who could figure everything out on his or her own is over.

It is kind to ask for help. Do not trust someone who cannot ask for help”.

Note: Feel free to adapt and adjust this typology. Think of it as a commons. I invite you share how you are using it and how it is evolving with your usage. here or email sam@percolab.com

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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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