Five Org Design Things N° 7
Collaboration edition! Yumemi’s org design; Collaboration is dead; Elbows of data; How to make good documents; How to run good workshops
This week, I wrote about internal capabilities and their "perfect form", how activist investors hate matrix orgs, storytelling lessons from Undercurrent's training material, and a few standout practices from why DARPA works. There's some good stuff in these – check them out if you have time!
Distributed organization at Yumemi (300 people, Japan, Software development)
Yumemi is a software development company that sells to other businesses (read: agency/consultancy); their products are in use by 50 million people. So a going concern!
They are organized into Guilds, which are composed of Teams of no more than 7 people. People management happens on a volunteer basis at the Guild level. Proposals for changes work via a form of structured consent. The operate with radical transparency (here's their org chart in Miro).
Their Guilds include:
- Sales and Marketing
- Project Management
Everyone can choose which teams they work on. The process works like this:
The process starts when the sales team (as the client contact point) acquires a new project opportunity. (Note: this is just an opportunity, not yet a project.) Before the sales team can turn the opportunity into a project, it must first find an engineering team in the firm willing to take on this work and willing to accept the proposal acquired by the sales team. Once this happens, the sales team can start introducing the engineering team to the client, and the project can finally kick off.
This is the way most large consultancies work anyway, but adding all of these structural safety measures, I'd imagine, substantially improves psychological safety, reduces anxiety, and improves overall engineering/client outcomes. The organization made this shift in 2018, so it seems like it's going OK.
None of this is newfangled stuff – a lot of it looks like a localized, simpler version of Sociocratic ideas that are proven to work.
And yet, for most, collaboration is dead
This, by Simon Terry, argues that collaboration is dead. Jeff Bezos is famous for saying that communication is a bug, not a feature. So...this is definitely a thing, not just a local annoyance.
Simon suggests a few better paths forward than "new technology" or "new process" – my favorite is "begin and end with everyday work."
Video is exciting. Events are exciting. Campaigns, features, incentives and more can help educate employees but begin and end your work by improving everyday work. Make that better and your efforts have ongoing value to the grassroots in the organisation.
What do the teams actually do? Where do they spend their time? How can the work get better and easier? Examples like Yumemi address the reality of value creation, without the window-dressing that comes with most change programs. This means that the changing gets easier, better, and cheaper with time – so the organization gets better without requiring top-down intervention.
An alternative is to elbow your way into the spaces that matter
Katie Bauer is Head of Data for GlossGenius (they make an app for beauty pros) and wrote this awesome post about how data can gain a seat at the table.
Companies may not be sure how to best incorporate data teams into their processes of value creation, but that doesn’t mean we can’t elbow our way in. The most impactful data folks I’ve worked with in my career have not been iconoclastic or revolutionary heads of data, nor have they been analytically brilliant data scientists or mastermind architect data engineers. They’ve been elbows of data—folks who have insisted on being involved in driving the company forward, whether they were invited to or not.
- Make a habit of fact finding (aka "Know the business cold")
- Think about the second life of your work (aka "Understand the horizontal, re-usable aspect of each project")
- Don’t wait to be asked (self-explanatory)
- Be proactive about explaining your constraints and asking for what you need (same – but in practice this means having high-quality, accessible material about what you do and why, and the state of your backlog)
- Don’t suffer in silence (same, but worth saying)
Speaking of the second life of your work...
Create good documents
Oldie but goodie from Noah.
- Fit for context (know who you're writing the document for, why they'll use it, and don't be shy about flagging this context)
- Clearly written and to the point (break out your Elements of Style and pay attention to it)
- Visual where possible (documents require more than writing – see Yumemi's Miro example, above)
- Skimmable (Use formatting)
- Up to date (obvious, but tag when updates are made)
- Discoverable & Tracked (I would go beyond this: you can't just make a document public, you have to publicize it)
Beyond documentation, running realtime/synchronous workshops are a must-have skill
Pilar Esteban Gómez wrote this exceptional guide to running workshops:
These are all good.
Like, really good! Someday I'll have to make some of these of my own, but in the meantime, each one of these workshop facilitation methods is super memorable and easy to run. You'll seem like a workshop genius if you commit a few to memory and pull them out in a meeting that's going sideways (or not going anywhere).
Beyond documentation, collaborative working sessions like the ones Pilar described are a critical ingredient in fixing the working relationships between and inside groups. Function leads (and individual contributors, of course!) need these tools in their kit to help decide on shared paths forward and to build emergent wisdom.
So yeah. Collaboration is dead. But it's all we've got, and we have the tools to design the structures that help healthy collaboration thrive. I think we're just missing the will to do it, and awareness of what's possible.
HMU if you want to try any of this! I'll help!