Don't Be Perfect: Progression is Progressive
Let’s be honest. Really honest. There are thousands of blog posts, podcasts, thought-provoking books, videos, courses and conferences – all claiming to talk about, and help you deliver, a progressive and forward-thinking mentality.
It’s easy to dip your toe into the proverbial murky water of organisational design, and quickly find yourself neck deep with no sign of escape. Models, structures, ways of being, processes and procedures.
You’ll read utopian case studies of the select few organisations that have truly cracked self-management and become disorientated with how much there is to do. You’ll hear words and phrases such as Teal, sociocracy, network of teams, holacracy – all banded about in everyday language.
So, let’s be honest. This progressive world is oversaturated. It’s become too complicated. We worship perfection, idolise standout examples of progressive movements, and often forget that something is better than nothing at all.
We worship perfection, idolise standout examples of progressive movements, and often forget that something is better than nothing at all.
What’s the truth? You don’t need to be perfect. In fact, you’ll never reach perfection. There will always be something to change, tweak, or adjust. Is that disheartening or reassuring? Probably a bit of both.
What do you do then? It’s simple. You do what’s right for your organisation.
You don’t need to follow every Teal principle. You don’t need to be perfectly holacratic. You don’t need to remove your leadership team. You don’t need to make your managers redundant overnight. You don’t need to introduce radical policies, such as self-set salaries or unlimited holiday.
You don’t need to do any of that.
There’s one thing you need to do. Ask the right questions.
Ask the right questions to find the right solutions
What works? What doesn’t work? Where do we want to be? What do we want to achieve? Do we want to give our teams more autonomy? Where is productivity or motivation being stunted?
You may end up in a sociocratic rabbit hole and like the way teams are structured, but not agree with the decision making process of consensus. You may be inspired by Reinventing Organisations but know your business will never be truly flat, like Morning Star.
It doesn’t matter.
You can take elements from all of these structures and designs to create your own hybrid. By merging models you’ll set a course that’s relevant for your company, answers those questions, and puts you on the path to progression. It doesn’t need to be perfectly aligned to what you’ve read.
Putting your own stamp on it makes it yours. You can tweak it, change it, adapt it, and even test out new ideas from conflicting theories.
You can take elements from all of these structures and designs to create your own hybrid. By merging models you’ll set a course that’s relevant for your company. It doesn’t need to be perfectly aligned to what you’ve read.
You could distribute managerial roles into the team, set an organisational model that’s aligned to sociocracy, and then bring in the advice process. In your own way, you’ve created a flat structure that gives accountability to the team. Still need an executive board? Go for it.
You could retain your existing hierarchical structure, but increase organisational transparency, give people the opportunity to set their own goals, and scrap annual appraisals. In your own way you’ve become more progressive, even if it’s not in sync with the poster companies.
It’s okay not to be perfect – Progression is progressive
I want to reassure you that it’s okay not to be perfect. Progression is progressive – regardless of how slow change is, or how much you actually adopt. Different theories have varying pros and cons – you don’t need to treat them as gospel.
There isn’t a perfect solution, so don’t go looking for it. Blend these new ways of working and create a model that’s right for you. Don’t bow down to the organisational design snobbery that will make you feel lesser than another company.
This is Reddico’s organisational structure, with the design tweaked from sociocracy, blended with the Teal principle of self-management, and adopting the advice process to make decisions and drive change (based on clear roles and responsibilities). Representatives are elected to facilitate meetings and distribute information throughout the company, and we’ve retained a board to help drive the company forward (post-90 days). We also use a tweaked version of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) to facilitate the majority of team meetings.
Is it perfect? No. Will it feature in Reinventing Organisations 2.0? Probably not.
Does it work for us? Yes. It gives the team more freedom, more accountability and more responsibility, with decentralised decision making and full transparency across the company.
And let’s be honest. That’s all that matters.
This is a guest post from Luke Kyte, Head of Culture at Reddico a company that puts trust and freedom at the heart of everything they do. For more information on Luke and the company, check out his rebel page.
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Great article, Luke! Nice to read some of your thoughts here 😊
I think that it is way more important to understand structures and mindsets so that one can adapt aspects of different models to one's own business. There is no need to be like Spotify or Haier. Also, being different does not mean not being "perfect".
Thanks, Luke, for reminding us of some key elements to organisations, people and the work they do.
Many enlightened people in organisations chase 'progressive' and may even chase something specific like Teal. In my view, that's OK if it is in the spirit of the collective need of the people involved in the organisation's operating world. People who work, partner, procure, consume and shape the products, services and thereby bringing to life the reason the organisation exists in the first place.
At PTHR, we're a bit like Reddico. We have our version of everything. We bring in team agreements, we have a TLC (The Leadership Circle) with a rotating open chair, we have adopted self-management as a principle. And we have things that guide us forged into our Business/Operating model based on a series of defined and agreed Stacks and 3 Pillars: People; Principles and Operations (all with ownership across the team that links to their roles and work they do).
We evolve, we drop stuff, we start stuff, we adapt stuff. We're never finished and we like it that way. If we didn't describe ourselves as progressive, we might all be a bit concerned we haven't settled on our shape/flow. We know being progressive means we'll never get there, so we're comfortable with constant 'upgrades' and iterations.
We take inspiration from others, we form our own stuff and we aspire to be on the right side of connected, collaborative, open, sharing, kind, creative, generous, all those things.
We're chasing a dream, we'll use models, we'll have our 'hero companies' we might aspire to be like in some shape or form. We might like to become one ourselves in the spirit of inspiring others to humanise, optimise whatever.
I don't think there's any such thing as 'pure' perfect. Perfect moments maybe, but perfection never lasts. Perfect is the wisp of a dream, to sometimes experience and regard and then realise it won't last so keep looking for new, different, additional things to do and try.
Thanks for reminding us of this, and that we are all doing our own thing and influenced by others we can learn from.
Here's to being perfectly comforted, by being imperfect.
Great article Luke! I think sometimes we get caught up in the actual concepts systems and forget about the reason why we need to look at them in the first place. Simply put, every organisation has a vision, mission and strategy to achieve, within a certain context or environment, and to do so it needs certain capabilities that need to be released in the most effective way possible so that they can achieve that vision and strategy - our operating models (structures, systems, processes, and culture) need to do this, and so each organisation, each context, will have different demands and challenges and opportunities attached to them that dictate the design of these operating models. When it comes to operating model design, there is no perfect design - each will have strengths and limitations, so tradeoffs need to be understood. It is no different to the design of a car - an off road 4WD will be great for off roading rough terrain, but pretty bad on a race track, and vice versa a F! car will be great on a race track, but terrible anywhere else. Sometimes we settle for compromise, and choose an SUV or family car that can do a bit of everything averagely well. Organisational design is no different - we need to consciously be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of different design options, and then marry these to the outcomes we want to achieve. It is good to know about the emerging "progressive" approaches an increasing number of organisations are now taking, because they challenge the traditional structures we have taken for granted as being the only option for decades (traditional hierarchical structures). But it doesn't mean the traditional approaches were all wrong and should be rejected - it just means that they no longer are fit for purpose on the same wide scale, and that we should be open minded to new approaches that are better for the purpose we want to achieve. I love your article and approach because you are thinking about that, and choosing the elements which work (or don't work sometimes - but at least you try them). so great article and thanks for sharing! :-)
Great article Luke. So often we are so easily confused by the many routes we can go to creating a happier working organisation. You are right sometimes it's about asking the right questions. Sometimes that question can be as simple as " What would make working here a more fulfilling experience and how can we facilitate that happening."
Keep up the great work at Reddico.
Not only do I think you are spot on, I would even argue that by focusing on extreme (and successful) examples of organisational "trends", the proliferation of a more free, more fun, or "new" way of working/organising — or whatever you want to label it — is hampered. It is what I argue in "7 misconceptions of 'the new way of working'", addressing the following misconceptions:
1. Change must be radical
2. Hierarchy must be flattened
3. It is all about trust
4. Experimentation must be embraced
5. Self-management is key
6. Control is part of the problem
7. It is all about people.
The article can be found here: https://decisionfreesolutions.com/publication/7-misconceptions-about-the-new-way-of-working/
The article suggests that there are first principles you can follow to arrive at "asking the right questions".
Finally, I would also argue that "progression/progressive" is a misnomer in this context. What works for you works for you, and may not for someone else.
How are work outcomes affected by the treatment of those who do it? I have been exploring this question for ~50 years. In that time, one comment stuck with me more than any other. It was made in 1998 when I interviewed a group of men in Indianapolis who had redesigned most of the US city’s waste collection and disposal operations. “We are no longer expected to park our brains at the door when we come to work.”
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