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Posts from the ‘community’ Category

Rebuilding Companies as Communities

In a post on our internal wiki, Eric suggested we have a look at a recent HBR article by Henry Mintzberg – Rebuilding Companies as Communities. Using a non-traditional organizational structure within our company, Eric knew that the article would be of interest to those of us who believe in the community structure as well as to those who doubt this is a viable organizational model.

Beneath the current economic crisis lies another crisis of far greater proportions: the depreciation in companies of community—people’s sense of belonging to and caring for something larger than themselves. Decades of short-term management, in the United States especially, have inflated the importance of CEOs and reduced others in the corporation to fungible commodities—human resources to be “downsized” at the drop of a share price. - Rebuilding Companies as Communities. Using a non-traditional organizational structure

I need to clarify that in our context, a community is different than the one frequently understood of a social community. Our communities are true business units and need to be financially self-sufficient (they need to generate enough revenue to support their cost structure).

As I presented a few months ago, we have taken the community approach to organize our various departments and we recently realized that we needed a central community to organize – at least in the short term – the work of the various communities. We humoursly called it the BOSS for Bureau d’Organisation et de Support aux Services, in French for Office of Organization and Support Service.

The BOSS’ Mission

The BOSS coordinates and dissiminates relevent business information, and provides support to the various communities in order for them to achieve their goals.
  • Crystallizes information for the communities to help them develop their strategy;
  • Acts as the conduit and diffuser of the strategic and tactical information relevant to the achievement of objectives;
  • Ensures transparency and compliance with the financial capability (definition and monitoring of the budget) of the communities;
  • Guides the communities to be effective in their orientation;
  • Establishes the context for evaluating the contribution of the communities (financial, vision, strategy);
  • Maintains the social architecture of the communities;
  • Acts as a sounding board for new initiatives;
  • Maintains and prioritizes the backlog of initiatives;
  • Detects and offers points of improvement;
  • Organizes monthly meetings;
  • Organizes bi-annual Strategic Cafés.
There are 5 members on this committee with a 6 months term. All members have been elected by the community to represent their interest and make the best decisions for the organization.

Rules

  • All employees must be part of at least one sub-community.

Defined Processes

To create a community: The community should establish and implement a business plan that seeks profitability and submit it to the BOSS for approval. Each community must define its own rules of participation.

To end a community: The criteria and details for this process will be detailed shortly.

Answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Is the BOSS responsible for setting the strategy?

No, the mission of the BOSS is to support the communities in preparing their strategy. It is up to each of the existing communities to establish its own strategy. On the other hand, the BOSS will ensure that a strategy is in place for each community and will assist the communities who need to create their strategy. As stated in its mission, the BOSS is responsible to channel and catalyze the information to help the various communities.

What should communities report to the BOSS?

In line with their business plan, each community will present its progress and key performance indicators in line with achieving their objectives.

I have an idea to launch a new community, what do I do?

Talk to your BOSS representative. You may also consult the internal wiki where you will find the information you need to provide to the BOSS to launch your community. There are meetings every month during which new ideas and opportunities will be presented and evaluated. If your idea is accepted, you will be allocated financial resources allocated according to the needs outlined in your strategy.

Our implementation of the community structure has hit bumps along the way but to date, it seems to be a viable alternative to traditional organizational structures. As with many innovations, we need to make sure we adapt the model to our reality in order for it to be an efficient structure.

Want to join Pyxis? Here is a message to the new employees

Welcome

If you did not already notice, Pyxis is a different company. You have surely seen that the number of smiles per hour is much higher than in traditional organizations. There are several reasons contributing to this phenomenon but for now we just want to explain the governance model used so that you understand exactly what is expected of you.

What is governance?

Corporate governance is the set of processes, customs, policies, laws, and institutions affecting the way a corporation or company is directed, administered or controlled. Corporate governance also includes the relationships among the many stakeholders involved and the goals for which the corporation is governed. - Corporate governance – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

What is the management philosophy?

The management philosophy of François relies heavily on the work of Peter Block and more specifically on the audio book “The Right Use of Power: How Stewardship Replaces Leadership“. If you do not know this audiobook, we invite you to invest 3 hours to understand the philosophy. The alternative is that you will have to reconstruct the enigma over the coming weeks, so this is certainly a good investment.

What does it mean to work at Pyxis?

Before going further, it is important that you know the values and mission of Pyxis and our perspective of capitalism in the 21st century. Then comes the most difficult challenge for a new employee, you must rid yourself of your mental model of a traditional business because most of your references will not apply at Pyxis. Want examples?

In a traditional business At Pyxis
The boss tells me what to do. I determine how I can help Pyxis reach its objectives.
I wait for directions. I initiate the right activities.
I have a boss. There is no hierarchy.
I must ask for permission. I make decisions, communicate them and make them visible on our wiki.
The company takes care of me. I take care of myself.
I hope the organization will help me develop my skills. I develop my skills while working on initiatives that will help Pyxis achieve its objectives.
I do not take any risk. I learn from my mistakes.
I wait for my boss to solve my issues. I solve the problems.
I look for the leaders. I am a leader.
I wait for someone to assess my performance. I initiate the 360-degrees feedback evaluation.
I can’t wait for retirement. Week-ends are too long and I can’t wait to go back to work on Monday

OK, let’s not exagerate!

What are the teams at Pyxis?

Pyxis works in “communities“.

What do I do now?

If you have more questions than answers after reading this page, it’s normal. Most people need time to assimilate new concepts and our mode of operation. If you have questions, ask them to the people around you or help others by adding them to our wiki.

A Few Quotes from Peter Senge on Communities

In chapter 10 (Shared Vision) of his book The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization, Peter Senge’s touches on the topic of Communities.

Below are some quotes I got from the book. I wrote these down a few months ago.

  • Communities are not held together by what people can get, communities are held together by what people can give;
  • People come together voluntarily;
  • People want to contribute something toward what they care about;
  • Communities have a genuine spirit of shared vision;
  • People are naturally drawn to other people who share the same vision, they start to talk and get together for the sake of the goal of the community;
  • Start talking about the real reason we are getting together, even if we don’t work for the same company.

Within Pyxis, we are pushing the implementation of communities further with positive results. I’ll be sharing more information on our progress in an upcoming post.

The Strategic Café or “A bottom-up approach to setting a corporate strategy” (Day 2)

As a follow-up to my earlier blog post on this topic, below is the agenda of our meeting as well as the questions asked during the sessions. If you are not already doing so, I strongly recommend you start using this facilitation approach to improve your meetings – including your next Strategy Definition meeting.

Strategic Café

If you would like more information on how to organize your own Strategic Café, you can drop me an email (martin [at] analytical-mind.com). I’d be happy to help.

Strategic Café

Agenda – Day 2

Breakfast (8:00 to 8:25)

Welcome and meeting introduction (8:25 to 8:30)

Presentation of our initiatives for the next 6 months (8:30 to 11:00)

Strategic Café

Pause (11:00 to 11:30)

Strategic Café

Prioritization of our initiatives for the next 6 months (11:30 to 12:15)

Lunch (12:15 to 1:00)

Strategic Café

World Café – Strategic assessment of our environment (1:00 to 2:30)

Background: To correctly set up our strategies, we must understand the environment in which we operate for: our consulting service, our products, and our training.

Question: What are our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in each sector of activity?

Tables:

  • Products
  • Products
  • Consulting Service
  • Consulting Service
  • Training

Mechanics: The participants are allowed 12 minutes at each table.

Strategic Café

Pause (2:30 to 3:00)

World Café – Operational improvements (3:00 to 4:30)

Background: In order to continue our growth, we must give ourselves the means to grow up, what are the improvements that wants to carry out: sales, marketing, finance, human resources and SME.
Question: How does improve on our operations to do the goals we had set?
Tables:
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Subject Matter Experts
Mechanics: The participants are allowed 20 minutes at each table.

Strategic Café

The Strategic Café or “A bottom-up approach to setting a corporate strategy” (Day 1)

If you ever had a chance to participate in a Strategy Definition meeting, you either had a good time because YOU were dictating the strategy to follow or had an awful experience because your recommendations were totally altered, down-graded to a point of irrelevance or blown out of proportion making them un-achievable. Needless to say, for most people a Strategy Definition meeting is an experience comparable to a visit to the dentist for a root canal.

As I already mentioned, not only is our organizational structure different from most organizations but so is our strategic process. As opposed to a top-down Strategy Definition where the Top Executives come up with the Strategy, we use a bottom-up approach. Once again, we rely on the wisdom of the crowd to come up with the best strategy we can achieve. Not only is the strategy sound, it also removes the need to obtain buy-in after the fact since employees participated in the definition of their strategy.

We’ve implemented a Balanced Score Cards approach to our strategic planning process 6 months ago. This approach is helping us move forward but the format of our previous meetings left a lot of room for improvement. After asking around for an alternate approach for the meeting, François suggested we try a World Café format. After reading about the principles and the book (The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter), we spent time preparing and planning for the meeting. Needless to say, the Strategic Café was a huge success.

World Café used to Define the Corporate Strategy

I want to sharing with you the agenda of the meeting as well as the questions asked during the sessions. If you are not already doing so, I strongly recommend you start using this facilitation approach to improve your meetings – including your next Strategy Definition meeting.

If you would like more information on how to organize your own Strategic Café, you can drop me an email (martin [at] analytical-mind.com). I’d be happy to help.


Agenda – Day 1

Breakfast (8:00 to 8:25)

Welcome and meeting introduction (8:25 to 8:30)

Warming up the brain cells (8:30 to 8:45)

We asked participants to compete in a friendly game of Rush Hour. The intend was to introduce a fun element in the day in preparation for the meeting.

Strategic Café

World Café – Retrospection of the previous 6 months (8:45 to 10:30)

Background: What should be done to improve the organization on the following 5 dimensions: communication, accountability, prioritization, leadership and decision making?

Question: What are the challenges encountered within the organization and what is my contribution to meeting these challenges?

5 Tables: Communication, Accountability, Prioritization, Leadership, and Decision Making.

Mechanics: The participants are allowed 15 minutes at each table.

At the end of the exercise: Each of the 5 paper-table-cloths is assigned to an individual responsible to come up with a plan of actions.

Strategic Café

Pause (10:30 to 11:00)

Presentation of the new governance model (11:00 to 12:30)

Unfortunately, this part is confidential ;)

Lunch (12:30 to 1:15)

Strategic Café

World Café – Improvement to the well-being of people (1:15 to 3:00)

Background: In 1 year from now, what will be the impact of our organization on the following 4 sectors: employees, existing customers, stakeholders, and potential customers?

Question: What programs should we develop to meet our objective of improving people’s well-being?

4 Tables: Employees, Existing Customers, Potential Customers, and Society.

Mechanics: The participants are allowed 20 minutes at each table.

At the end of the exercise: Participants were asked to select the top 4 priorities for each of the sectors and write them on a master flip-chart. Participants were then asked to vote to select the top 4 priorities overall on which the organization would invest time, energy and resources to move forward.

Strategic Café

Pause (3:00 to 3:30)

Strategic Café

World Café – Selection criteria to prioritize our initiatives for the next 6 months (3:30 to 5:15)

Background: Given the limited resources and the large number of initiatives within our organization, which criteria do we want to use to prioritize and select the initiative that we will move forward using the following areas: Financial, Customer experience, and Employee learning and growth?

Question: Which criteria we will use to determine our priorities?

3 Tables: Financial, Customer Experience, and Employee Learning and Growth

Mechanics: The participants were allowed 20 minutes at each table.

At the end of the exercise: Participants were asked to select the top 4 priorities for each of the sectors and write them on a master flip-chart. Participants were then asked to vote to select the top 4 priorities overall. Those would become the criteria used to prioritize our initiatives for the next 6 months.

Strategic Café

Dinner (6:00 to 8:30)

As an analogy to our Strategic Meeting, we had organized dinner at O’Noir.


I’ll be publishing Day 2 of our meeting shortly.

Rules aren’t created for those who will comply

I already wrote about our non-traditional organizational structure and the increasing reliance on communities the organize our teams. I recently had an interesting conversation about the use of rules within communities and within the overall organization.

Breaking the rules

The conversation went something like this.

  • Dan – “We already use self-organized teams and increasingly rely on communities to get our goals done. Why do we need to add formal rules? Isn’t this against our approach of trusting people?”
  • Me – “Implementing rules doesn’t mean we don’t trust people. The rules are simply there to help everyone understand which behaviors are acceptable so our community can work efficiently.”
  • Dan – “This goes against self-organized teams. If the teams want to work without rules, they should be allowed to.”
  • Me – “Yes, but only up to a certain point. Without rules you will quickly get chaos and anarchy. I believe rules should disappear over time but they are initially required to help regulate the actions of the group.”
  • Dan – “I believe we shouldn’t have any rules. If I want to do something, I don’t want any stupid rules to prevent me from doing it…”
  • Me [light bulb goes on in my head] – I wonder if people oppose rules because they may (want to) break them…

This question quickly lead me to the debate around the proposed legislation to reduce the blood-alcohol level from 80 to 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. A similar public debate was launched when Quebec decided to experiment with photo radar a few months ago. In both cases, it seemed to me that the arguments often used to oppose such rules are that they go against people’s freedom. Although the rules make sense, you will find many people who will oppose the rules pretending they interfere with their freedom of choice and action.

It appears to me that the people who oppose rules may eventually break them and as such, anticipate being caught. Keep in mind that rules are very rarely opposed by those who will comply with them.

FAQ: Communities in the context of business

Since my first post on this topic, a few people asked me why I thought communities were a new way to organize and what complexity there was in applying communities to a business setting (i.e. for-profit organizations). I have defined what is a community in a business context and some of the rules they follow. Below are some of the recurring questions and their associated answer.

In a business context, what is a community?

In a business context, communities are similar to functional departments with some fundamental distinctions. In traditional setting, members of a functional department or of a project team work together to achieve a goal. With some exceptions, team members share nothing but their common goal and a common boss. By comparison, in addition to sharing a common goal members within a community also share common values and culture and they operate within agreed upon self-defined norms. I provided a few examples here.

Why are communities in the context of business different from other communities?

Communities that come together to carry out a goal are common but communities that aim to generate revenue to autonomously support themselves are no frequent. In traditional for-profit organizations, shareholders through board members select the management team for the organization. The management team (President, CEO, COO, etc.) become accountable to the board for their performance and as such almost always use a top-down (command-and-control) approach.

By contrast, communities rely on a bottom-up approach to decide their goals and those are seldom oriented toward profit.

Aren’t communities completely disorganized and as such, couldn’t work in a business context?

Communities could be disorganized but they wouldn’t be effective. Communities typically set up rules that will allow them to work efficiently. What may seem like disorganized entities within traditional organizations may actually bring better results.

In certain situation, a larger community may ask sub-communities to run within certain guideline and as such, would cut disorganization.

Why use communities as organizational structure?

Because communities are living cells, they are components of a living organism and are able to adapt to their environment.

A community can be born, live and die. A community arises when 2 people come together around a common goal, and decide to form a community.

A community dies when less than 2 people deploy energy to sustain it.

What rules govern a community?

I already provided an answer in this post but typically, communities work by the rules defined by their members. Some rules are implicit while others are explicit and clearly adapted to the needs of the community. The community may decide to create a space for expression and revision of its rules.

In his blog (English translation by google) Tremeur talked about the notion of rules and how they are relevant to the functioning of communities.

How can someone join a community?

Individuals can join a community by expressing their interest in the community, ensuring they are motivated by the goals the community has set, and by adhering to the rules of that community. Further information on this topic can be found in this post.

Can a community expel a member?

According to the rules under which it operates, the community may choose to expel one of its members. It is important to establish that the decision to evacuate a member is serious and can not be done without the approval of the majority (or unanimity) of group members.

An individual is part of a community if he is active in this community. Being active in the community means to actively and positively contribute to achieving the goals set by the community by working with other members of this community. If an individual is not active in a community, it is not part of that community (even if his name appears in the list of members).

How many communities can an individual belong to?

People can belong to as many communities as they wish. Individuals alone are responsible for setting their limit.

What is the largest number of members in a community?

There is no set limit.

If the number of members is jeopardizing the operational effectiveness of the community (9 members in a team would be a reasonable number), then it is likely that the community will divide itself into 2 communities, each pursuing different sub-objectives.

What is the role of leader of the community?

A leader is appointed only if the community decides to appoint one, and its role is defined by the community. Typically,

  • the leader ensures the respect of the common rules that the community has given itself;
  • the leader ensures that the community is visible and transparent;
  • the leader is the one who will link with other communities.

Who chooses the leader of a community?

Unlike traditional businesses where leaders (managers) are selected or appointed by their supervisor, the leader of a community is chosen democratically by the members of the community. Similar to the concept of holacracy, the leader emerges from the group because of its expertise and its commitment to advancing the community towards achieving the goals it has set.

Are all communities are connected?

Maybe, maybe not.

The link between 2 communities may be at least 2 kinds:

  • members belonging to more than 1 community;
  • a need expressed by a community for the services provided by another.

A community that needs support or resources from another community therefore becomes automatically linked to another community.

Can a community exist independently?

If it apart from other communities, the answer is “yes”: For example, communities of practice are primarily in service to their members, and this is enough.

Is that all communities have financial goals?

No. Basically, communities set their own goals.

As a commercial enterprise, some communities have financial goals to make sure growth and sustainability of the organization.

By contrast, other communities will be directly or indirectly serving communities with financial goals but will not themselves financial targets.

Other communities are communities of interest and have no link with strict financial targets.

Stop telling me HOW to do my job

Americans hate their jobs more than ever” … “Majority of Americans dislike their jobs” …

These are only 2 examples of a quick google search that returned over 44.1 million pages. Try “I hate my job” and the content of the pages returned is also very sad.

I don’t intend to go into socio-psychological analysis in this post but I wonder if something as simple as trusting your employees to do their job properly would actually increase job satisfaction?

For most people, enjoying their job would simply mean doing the same type of work but in a different work setting. Many people have spent years studying to develop their expertise in a specific field that they love. Then, one day, they start working and life becomes miserable – not because they hate what they are doing but because of the way the are treated at work. Once again, I don’t want to go into harassment or this type of treatment. The only point I’m raising is that letting professionals determine the best way for them to complete their work would is such a simple of increasing job satisfaction.

“Yes, but I’m the boss” – you reply.

So what? The fact that you were hired to lead or manage people in achieving a team or departmental objective doesn’t make you the most qualified individual to resolve day-to-day issues.

“Yes, but I’ve done this job before” – you insist.

Once again, so what? The individuals performing the job now bring different skill sets and expertise to the equation and as such are qualified to address their work as they see fit. You may provide guidance or answer your employee’s questions when they come ask for help but not tell them how to do their job.

Put together a community of expertise so people doing similar work can support each other. Provide tools if they need, support your employees in finding the right answers to their problems but don’t tell them how to do it.

There is a small Japanese car-manufacturer that understood that concept a while ago. They are now the largest car manufacturer in the world. Don’t you wonder how they achieved their success?

How can someone Join a Community? Can people leave a Community?

Joining a Community is Simple

Everyone can ask to join a community if it is open to integrate new members. Once again, the community decides how many members it will allow and which skill set, profile and experience is required to qualify. Assuming the community is accepting new members, anybody who believes they meet the requirements may ask to join the community.

Leaving a Community is Simple

Based on the norms established by the community, people may leave with (or without) advanced notice. Communities are usually fluid and allow for members to join and leave in order to support the emergence of new ideas and new energy to reach the set objectives.

In order not to disrupt significantly the activities of the community, members are usually required to provide advanced notice to the other community members.

The Community May Ask People to Leave

Norms vary for each communities but in our situation there is a fundamental rule that states the “no single individual can have authority over another individual”. As such, community members cannot be expelled or fired based on the decision of a single individual, including the community leader. Community members who fail to comply to the norms and values of their group may be asked to leave if the majority of community members support the decision.

As in the case of a voluntary departure, the community is required to provide advanced notice to the member they wish to expel.

For more content on the topic of communities, you may follow the community tag.

What Rules Do Communities Follow?

The answer to that question is simple: NONE.

It is not that communities are disorganized and chaotic but Our Communities do not follow rules as they are currently understood and documented. The Merriam-Webster dictionnary defines rules as “a prescribed guide for conduct or action” or “the laws or regulations prescribed by the founder of a religious order for observance by its members“. By that definition, rules are very strict and typically defined by the leading members of the group.

Our communities use norms to organize themselves and ensure common understanding. As per wikipedia, norms “are the rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors“.

Each community defines its set of norms under which they wish to operation. To ensure the community is linked to other communities, the group must ensure their norms are inline with the norms of the greater community to which they belong.

Some norms may be identical for all the communities (i.e. freedom of expression) while some communities may have specifics expectations (i.e. specific time commitment).

Typically, more norms are required at the early stages of a community to create a common culture and set of values and to prevent abuse. As the community matures, less norms are required and the community self-regulates. It is critical for the norms to be clearly communicated at the entry point in order to avoid misunderstanding and confusion later in time.

In the end, the level of freedom and the type of structure used by each community is never as important as the results they achieve.

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