The future is teal

Published on: May 14, 2019

Introducing self-organization at Kapernikov with S3

Growing pains

Kapernikov is growing fast – in every possible way. We had an awesome 2018, and by the looks of it, 2019 will be no less exciting. Our growth is not limited to numbers, by the way. It is more than the number of projects we are running, or how many new faces we are welcoming. What we are also gaining is a whole lot of expertise, knowledge, skills, talents, ideas, possibilities for the future.

We love it all, and we see that it also requires us to take a step back and ask ourselves: how do we respond as an organization? What has always worked for us as a small company was keeping things human, friendly, no-nonsense. So far, we had no real need for a lot of structure, because it was relatively easy to oversee everything. But with everything we have going on, things are gradually getting more complex.

It would be easy to respond to our growing size by putting in place the classical pyramid structure, so that we feel in control. We could introduce a layer of middle management, some fancy management tools and a series of policies. Only, that’s really never been our thing. As much as we love machines, the last thing we want is for our organization to become one. A key element for us to make our story truly successful is providing the best possible support structure that sustains both our growth and that sense of closeness that we all hold so dear, the spirit of Kapernikov. But what does that look like?

As much as we love machines, the last thing we want is for our organization to become one.

S3: Toolbox for Teal

We found inspiration in Frederic Laloux’ “Reinventing Organizations”, the famous management book on the emerging trend of Teal organizations. The pillars of the type of organization that Laloux describes naturally resonate with us:

  • Self-organization is a way of running the business through empowered peer relationships rather than via a controlled hierarchy.
  • Wholeness is the principle of welcoming co-workers to “bring all of who they are to work”, which echoes how we try to involve each co-worker as much as we can and practise transparent, open communication.
  • Evolutionary purpose puts the focus of how we relate to our common mission on sensing what is needed in the organization and then reacting accordingly (rather than imposing a fixed course).

We became even more enthusiastic when we were introduced to Sociocracy 3.0 (in short: S3), a more practical guide to implementing self-organization as a company practice. S3 first translates the Teal pillars into seven principles (enriched by agile and lean thinking), all of which seem to fit very nicely into how we were working already.

Seven principles

  • Transparancy
    Make all information accessible to everyone in the organisation, unless there is a reason for confidentiality
  • Equivalence
    Involve people in making and evolving decisions that affect them
  • Accountability
    Respond when something is needed, do what you agreed to and take ownership for the course of the organization
  • Consent
    Raise, seek out and resolve objections to decisions and actions
  • Continous Improvement
    Change incrementally to accommodate steady empirical learning
  • Effectiveness
    Devote time only to what brings you closer towards achieving your objectives
  • Empiricism
    Test all assumptions through experiments and continous revision

Next, based on these principles, S3 offers a toolbox that holds over 70 so called patterns: practices and templates to support collaboration, decision making and dealing with complexity within an ever changing and evolving organization, while always making the best possible use of the talents and the collective intelligence that are already available within all of its members.

In the spirit of organic growth, S3 is flexible and non-dogmatic by definition. There is no “one size fits all”. Rather, it invites to mix and match: take out of the toolbox what looks interesting to apply to a specific situation, and adapt, or put back, or leave in what doesn’t. Accountability and engagement are key in this process: inspire and invite change rather than drive or force it, and from there, gradually build things up as you go. All of that sounded like music to our ears, so we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.

But why?

First of all, we called on the support of the organizational coaches of iLean, to get some ground work done. We got familiar with the principles and the basics of how to get organized if we want to introduce self-organization as a company practice. Then we dug into applying those at Kapernikov.

Before we could even define what it is that we want to create and how we will go about it, there was a more important question to answer: why? This simple but profound question is at the root of everything that is S3. Be it on an organizational level, team level or personal level, reconnecting to what you are doing it for is what brings clarity of direction and sparks intrinsic motivation. It supports us all to show up at work as the best versions of ourselves, rather than as money making zombies.

When you ask us about Kapernikov’s “why”, our mission, we say: fun @ work. Here is what that means for us:

  • Doing the things we love,
  • Getting paid for doing them (after all, this distinguishes a job from a hobby),
  • In an inspiring, caring environment,
  • With people we love,
  • While learning and growing as a person.

From this starting point, the current scope of activities undertaken by Kapernikov came into being.

Kapernikov’s first S3 driver statement

This “why” is the foundation to what S3 calls our main driver: our motive for responding to a specific situation that somehow creates a tension with that vision. We summarize everything in this driver statement:

What is happening:

  • The current situation:
    In the way that we are organized now, most questions and decisions are handled by partners – who are slowly becoming a bottleneck as we grow bigger and bigger. Meanwhile, we are hiring excellent people who are without a doubt capable of more than “just” the consulting and project work they do. Perhaps they would also like to be involved in other topics and contribute to making us and the organisation thrive, and we are letting their talents go to waste.
  • The effect of this situation on Kapernikov:
    Without intervention, we would evolve into a traditional, hierarchically structured company with many layers of management, bureaucracy, overhead and slow decision making.

… and what is needed:

  • Kapernikov’s need in relation to this situation:
    We need a way to organize Kapernikov that invites and empowers all of its members. Everyone needs to be given the opportunity to pick up other responsibilities, to take part in decision making and in other secondary processes that interest them.
  • The impact of attending to that need:
    Co-workers can develop more of their talents at work. Partners can keep their focus on working on core activities together with co-workers in the field. Further growth of the company is possible while important tasks are not left undone. And last, but definitely not least, we keep the cozy, entrepreneurial and lean spirit of the small company we love.

That sums up what we want to realize and why. How do we want to respond? By introducing self-organization.

The Sociocratic governance structure

So we opened the S3 toolbox and took a few patterns out to work with. We selected a few domains of responsibility that build on our driver statement: recruitment, technical knowledge management, purchasing and our time-and-billing process. We launched the first two at our general meeting in December. Rather than handing them to one of the partners to take the lead and start handing out orders, the invitation was opened to all of our co-workers to put their hand up if they felt an interest in being involved. Through a nomination process, a few co-workers were invited to step in and form a team together, each team including one of the partners, in order to keep the connection with what is happening throughout the company.

Since then, we refer to these teams as circles. They are semi-autonomous, self-organizing and self-governing groups who take accountability for their domain. Together, they agree on the specific driver statement for their domain (as well as key responsibilities and constraints). They are independent in how they organize the day-to-day work and in creating strategies and agreements. All decisions in each circle are taken through a process of consent, meaning proposals are presented and accepted by the whole group in absence of objections. Everyone in the circle is equivalent. And with partners being part of the circle, they still keep the overview of what is happening, without taking up the role of “the boss”.

Learning as we go along

And so we have started our journey. What have we learned so far? Surprise, surprise: it takes time and effort to adapt (hard in the beginning, messy in the middle…). And that is okay. We are simply taking things step by step.

We are getting together at the end of May with all Kapernikans to share experiences, see what works and what doesn’t, and agree by consent on the next steps. As the proverb goes: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” That is exactly what we intend to do.