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  • Writer's pictureMark Cruth

Session 5: Agile 2019

The fifth session in the World Without Hierarchy Project is in the books! It occurred on August 8, 2019 with ~50 people at the annual Agile 2019 conference in Washington, DC. The game continues to evolve, and with the innovative minds from around the world at this global conference you'll see we're getting some very creative ideas! Check out the AMAZING results below!

Experiment 1: Procurement Decisions

Background: What does the new org look like and how does it function? Including the transition of roles? Specifically, how do we handle procurement decision?

Brainstorm Solutions:

  1. Set higher purchasing power at a individual basis, aligned with objectives

  2. Peer/collective decision making for high dollar purchases

Hypothesis: We believe collective decision making for large purchases will result in mitigated risk, wasteful spending, faster/more agile procurement process, and higher employee engagement. We know we will be successful when cycle time for purchases is reduced and there is a decrease is inventory/working capital (quarterly earnings reflect more cash on hand).

Experiment Details: Start with one part of the organization (e.g. Brazil branch) and implement a decentralized decision making process there. Attempt it for one quarter and measure results.

Experiment 2: Org Structure

Background: How do we re-organize our company structure to support a flat organization?

Brainstorm Solutions:

  1. By region

  2. By product line

  3. By value stream function

Hypothesis: We believe a product focused structure will deliver better customer value and will result in higher customer satisfaction. We know we will be successful when we see an increase in sales, increase in market share, and decrease in cycle time for new products (time to market).

Experiment Details: Identify one product line and reorganize that part of the company around the product line. Target a specific region (e.g. South America). Provide training to team members on what it means to organize around a product line. Have the team self select a leader to report to the customer. Measure impact.

Experiment 3: Rewarding Skill Development

Background: In a flat hierarchy, how are we handling skills, abilities, and how we are rewarding for them?

Brainstorm Solutions:

  1. Everyone is measure as a team vs. individual

  2. Everyone gets a merit badge for skills and abilities

Hypothesis: We believe giving everyone a base salary and assigning merit badges / rewards to skills acquired above base level will result in a natural incentive seeking drive in employees to increase their skill set. We know we will be successful when a perceived fairness is measured through an employee engagement survey.

Experiment 4: Business Financial Decisions

Background: How do we make business financial decisions in a flat organizations?

Brainstorm Solutions:

  1. Maximize limit for everyone on expenses

  2. Voluntary board for making financial decisions with limited tenure for members

Hypothesis: We believe having a cap on personal expenses and implementing a rotating employee acquisition/decision making board will result in eliminating admin burden and increase process throughput. We know we will be successful when decisions can be made quickly and net profits will increase.

Experiment Details: This will be a voluntary employee experiment. Some purchases and acquisitions will be identified to go through the process. Initial board members will have a 90 day term and cannot return for a set amount of time (TBD). People can volunteer, otherwise there will be a rotating selection process based on employee responsibility.

Experiment 5: Psychological Safety with Structure

Background: How do we handle the confusion and psychological safety when it comes to structure and compensation?

Brainstorm Solutions:

  1. Create a product-centric organization (private pool of money)

  2. De-scale into a manageable units that have a pool of money to use

Hypothesis: We believe de-scaling the organization into largely independent product-centric teams will result in teams becoming smaller, closer to their products, and more cohesive/informed. We know we will be successful when employees feel safe, heard, and appreciated, as well as are more creative and innovative around client needs.

Experiment Details: Pick one product and flatten out the hierarchy. Create a pilot team to run the product. Survey team members throughout the process. Teams will be rewarded on how they work as a team to support their product.

Experiment 6: Keep People Motivated

Background: How to create a safe environment to keep people motivated.

Brainstorm Solutions:

  1. Transparent communication

  2. Retrain leaders to be facilitators (team self-direction)

Hypothesis: We believe that taking existing leaders/managers and training them in the ACI model of coaching and facilitation will result in a smooth transition from the current to the desired flat organization structure. We know we will be successful when people stop looking for outside leadership when the decision happens at the lowest level of the organization, but benefits the highest level of the organization.

Experiment 7: How To Create Cohesive Direction

Background: When the organization goes flat, how do we create cohesive direction?

Brainstorm Solutions:

  1. Crowd source vision (come together on a regular cadence to reflect on the vision)

  2. Volunteer to join a group to create a vision

  3. Nominate people to create a vision for the organization

Hypothesis: We believe creating a department alignment workshop on vision will result in an understanding of our purpose, direction, and roles/responsibilities. We know we will be successful when we see a net $0 loss after the change in organizational structure (after one quarter).

Experiment 8: Prevent an Unofficial Hierarchy

Background: After going flat and eliminating hierarchy, we need to make sure there is no "in-crowd" and "out-crowd" or an unofficial hierarchy will form.

Brainstorm Solutions:

  1. Rotating team roles at a regular cadence

  2. Team activities (lunch, team building)

  3. Skills identification and recognition

Hypothesis: We believe that by rotating team members into different roles within the team it will result in heightened individual skills, value, and contribution, as well as break down the in-crowd barriers. We know we will be successful when feedback from employee surveys indicate no feelings of "in-crowd" vs "out-crowd."

Experiment Details: Within a cross-section of the organization (three central groups), rotate roles monthly. The teams will determine who does what. A before/after survey should be conducted, along with observations of the groups in action.

Experiment 9: Retention of Prior Managers

Background: Prior managers will be upset with their loss of authority/power and may leave the organization. Many of these people have a rich history with the organization and we would hate for them to leave. How do we retain them?

Brainstorm Solutions:

  1. Identify managers on the team who would be good visionaries

  2. Offer/create position for managers to move into coach/mentor roles

  3. Train managers on new skills to help fit positions needed within the organization leveraging a change management program

  4. Offer managers an opt-out package

Hypothesis: We believe implementing a change management program to excite and inspire managements to embrace the new culture will result in reducing fear of the unknown with the structure change, identify and empower managers interested in working in this new culture, and create new positions that will spark excitement. We know we will be successful when employee survey results indicates high job sanctification each quarter and retention of previous managers is high.

Experiment Details: Offer change management training for 1/3 of the organization. Conduct initial and post training surveys with participants in the training. Establish a peer mentorship program to support individuals going through the change management program. Update training based on feedback.

Experiment 10: Compensation

Background: How do we handle compensation? What is most important to people? What will motivate people?

Brainstorm Solutions:

  1. Equal pay

  2. Skills based pay

  3. Output based pay

  4. Impact/value based pay

Hypothesis: We believe paying people equally (equal share) based on profitability of the company will result in motivating people to contribute more and will reduce overall attrition. We know we will be successful when company profitability increases.

Experiment Details: First start with volunteers from throughout the company. Measure hours at the office, features delivered, attrition (number of people leaving). Measure the impact over two years, gauging employees each month.

Experiment 11: Decision Framework

Background: What will the decision framework be? How do we determine how to best service customers? What's the impact on employee morale?

Brainstorm Solutions:

  1. Sociocracy (independent council)

  2. Customer desire based

  3. Direct democracy

  4. Open Space (people who care show up and make decisions)

  5. AI based on past data

Hypothesis: We believe open space decision making will result in good decision and good employee morale. We know we will be successful when decision made lead to profitability, and employee engagement surveys show an increase in employee morale/satisfaction.

Experiment Details: Ask for volunteers to participant from around the company. Conduct the experiment for two years and measure the impact each month (e.g. did we make decisions? do we have more leads in the pipeline? do we have higher net profitability?)

Experiment 12: Conflict Resolution

Background: How do we work through conflict that prevents the organization from reaching its desired goals? This includes inter-departmental conflict, individual/team accountability, and interpersonal conflict.

Brainstorm Solutions:

  1. Have a dedicated conflict mediator role

  2. Leverage Holacracy for meeting structures and working through Tensions

  3. Train everyone in conflict management and feedback

Hypothesis: We believe leveraging Holacracy for structure and working through Tensions will result in a constructive approach towards productive conflict resolution. We know we will be successful when we have effective decision making that supports the organizations goals, and people have happy.

Experiment Details: Conduct a workshop on a problems leveraging the Holacratic approach. Have one department/team pilot using Holacracy. Begin setting expectations and gaining buy-in on Holacracy by talking to others in the organization. Setup an independent board of volunteers to help drive the adoption.

Experiment 13: Career Trajectory When Flat

Background: What does career trajectory look like in a flat organization? You can no longer advance through the hierarchy. How do people have goals? What's next (e.g. Mgr, Sr Mgr, Partner, VP)?

Brainstorm Solutions:

  1. Fold into guilds and choose your own adventure!

  2. Retrain managers into system managers (not people managers) - focus on how to inspire people and manage systems

  3. Offer current managers a large severance package and rehire the right people (mindset focused)

Hypothesis: We believe a retraining program to shift the mindset and focus of managers to systems will result in higher retention of previous people managers and allow these people to choose their own career path. We know we will be successful when managers begin attending the training voluntarily, company profit doesn't decrease, and overall happiness of previous people managers increases.

Experiment Details: Start with a small group and do a focus group (survey some people managers on whether the approach would help them transition). Experiments would be focused on selling the idea.

Experiment 14: Future Salaries

Background: People have expressed concerns with their future salaries.

Brainstorm Solutions:

  1. Reorganize teams with a pool of funds that teams decide who makes what

  2. Everyone gets the same salary

  3. Set up open guilds that define team value and create pay bands within guilds with levels of skill (pay associated with pay bands)

Hypothesis: We believe instituted the concept of open guild, allowing anyone to join, to assess skill pay bands (not individual pay) will result in a higher level of responsibility within the organization, including a focus on self-organization around salaries and expectations. We know we will be successful when guilds are established (with volunteers supporting them) and pay bands based on skill are in place.

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