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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3 responses to “How does an organisation shift to self-management?”

  1. This is a nice innovative approach to particpatory leadership and team self-management. It’s great to see a business owner taking such an interest and time to develop an empowered and interdependent workforce. I will share this story with the team I will be coaching today and look forward to seeing how this process unfolds.

  2. Ria Baeck says:

    Samantha, did you ever shared this with Enlivening Edge? Could easily be published there I guess. Then it would spread wide(r). Shall I point it out to George?

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