What All Great Teams Practice [Fogelson]

I came across

What All Great Team Practice

by Mackenzie Fogelson a few weeks back and immediately knew that it’d merit a blog post. But also that it’d take a bit of work to unpack. Below is my summary of the piece, which required some rejiggering of content in a way that’s hopefully still in-line with the author’s original intent.

The piece kicks-off with an important distinction between:

  • Ways of doing — actions teams and organizations operationalize in order to work in new, adaptive ways.
  • Ways of being — mindsets and behaviors that are integral to changing the ways of doing.

The key thesis in the piece is that teams and organizations often run off to change the ways of doing, ignoring the needs to change the underlying ways of being. If the current ways of being include learned helplessness, retaliation, shame, blame, and fear — no material change will be accomplished.

Specific practices can be used to address the emotional (ways of being) side first and cultivate the critical mindsets and behaviors:

  • Self-awareness — through the use of structured personal self-reflection exercises (what’s one strength you bring? what do people misunderstand about you? what needs acknowledging? what behaviors served or have not been serving this team?) and regular team check-ins.
  • Psychological safety — through the use of daily reminders of the commitment that each individual makes on the way they’re going to show up when engaging others, and the collective environment that they want to create.
  • Curiosity — through the use of more Socratic questioning instead of being “the person with all the answers”, and, mixed-up with strengthening self-awareness, the use of above/below the line reflections.

With more productive “ways of being” in place, the focus can start shifting towards better “ways of doing” starting off with a comprehensive team chartering exercise, which is detailed in the remainder of the and covering the following questions:

  • Mission + Purpose — Who do we serve? Who is our customer? How do we contribute to the organization’s success? What’s our outcome and how do we know we’ve reached it?
  • Values + Guiding principles — How do we want to show up every day? How do we want to get our work done? What will remind us to stay true to ourselves, our values, and our purpose?
  • Meetings — What is the purpose of each of our meetings? How often and how long do we meet? What meetings are missing and which ones do we need to stop having?
  • Communications — How do we collaborate? What technology do we use? When and why? What methods will we use for feedback and conflict?
  • Guardrails and norms — What guardrails will allow us to be autonomous in pursuing our purpose? What idiosyncrasies are important for us to name so we can do our work? When will we revisit our commitment to each other?
What All Great Teams Practice [Fogelson]

Decomposing Management: Stewardship [Loomio]

Source: Enspiral

Stewarding at Loomio

Out of the many organizations doing innovative exploration of the future of work, Enspiral, and its ventures (such as: Loomio) are most certainly at the leading forefront of some of the most radical experiments.

Flatter, more egalitarian working environments are a big part of their organizational vision and as a critical milestone towards accomplishing it, they are working to minimize the natural power dynamic that exists in the way the role of managers is traditionally defined.

Rather than simply “eliminating managers” and suffer the consequences of the gaping organizational hole that is left (a common anti-pattern), they’ve set out to deliberately identify the critical functions that managers play and unbundle them into several roles, that are then spread more evenly across the entire community.

One of those roles is “Stewarding”, which is defined as follows:

When you have an issue, you can’t approach a group; you need a specific person you know you can turn to. This is what your steward is for. They won’t solve every problem, but they are your point of contact to make sure the problem gets solved. If you don’t know who to go to, you can always go to them.

Stewarding is not about managing your daily work. Its about you as an individual, and your relationship to the co-op. They can be your mentor, or your guide, or your sounding board. If you ever get into a conflict situation, they’ll be by your side making sure you are well supported to a resolution.

They also provide a few concrete use cases that you’ll typically use your manager for but at Loomio, should be addressed by your Steward:

*) Be the ones you talk to if your coworker is being a jerk

*) Support you to meet your personal development goals

*) Help make sure you do the things you said you were going to do

*) Put a human face on talking to ‘the organisation’

Almost everyone at Loomio has a Steward, and almost everyone is someone else’s Steward (the illustration at the top of the post demonstrates that well), with a couple of edge cases that are spelled out in detail in the Stewardship policy.

While this solution is not without its shortcomings, for example, it works best when Stewarding needs, capabilities and motivations are homogeneous (which is hardly ever the case), it is, by all means, a viable alternative solution to the way these responsibilities are handled using the traditional management approach. Which is more that can be said for several other proposed alternatives out there. I’m excited to see how this organizational experiment pans out as both Enspiral and Loomio scale and looking forward to having them share their learnings with the broader community.

Decomposing Management: Stewardship [Loomio]

NOBL’s Org Design Principles [NOBL]

NOBL’s What Is Organizational Design? page is a trove a trove of useful frameworks and tools for anyone interested in playing an active role in shaping the future of work.

Today, I want to call out their list of “Org Design Principles” in particular (full descriptions are available on the NOBL website):

  1. Serve.
  2. Anticipate change.
  3. Surrender the past.
  4. Chase fit, not fads.
  5. Do no harm.
  6. Design by doing.
  7. Play your zone.
  8. Advocate for the individual. 
  9. Delay drawing boxes.
  10. Keep work simple. 
  11. Make change a habit. 
NOBL’s Org Design Principles [NOBL]

The Comp Transparency Spectrum [McKinney Blount]

Source: First Round Review

Just finish reading this weekend the First Round Review article featuring bethanye McKinney Blount’s work:

Opening Up About Comp Isn’t Easy — Here’s How to Get More Transparent

As its title suggests, is an extensive “how to” guide on how companies can start taking steps towards making compensation more transparent. A loaded topic that I’ll probably come back to and analyze in more detail in the future.

It covers the whole gamut from the initial motivation that push companies to be more transparent about their comp, through the critical milestones, all the way to the important minutiae of delivering the right messages by managers and the key points in the company all hands.

The most useful thing that I took away from the article is the “comp transparency spectrum” featured above. It presents pay transparency more as a polarity than a dichotomous either/or problem, and offers multiple notches in between the poles. Comp transparency is not simply going, step-by-step from the far left side of the spectrum to the far right side of the spectrum. It’s choosing where you should be on that spectrum (according to the kind of culture you want to create), identifying where you are now, and then taking the gradual steps to go from point A to point B.

The Comp Transparency Spectrum [McKinney Blount]

From ignorance to ineptitude [Parrish/Gawande]

I came across this older post listening to a recent episode of the Knowledge Project Podcast in which Shane Parrish interviewed Atul Gawande.

Atul Gawande: Why we Fail

The article mentions an older paper, by two philosophers, Samuel Gorovitz and Alasdair MacIntyre who in the 1970s published a short essay called “Towards a Theory of Medcial Fallibility”.

In the essay they make a distinction between two types of failure:

  1. Ignorance — we may err because science has given us only a partial understanding of the world and how it works.
  2. Ineptitude — the knowledge exists, yet we fail to apply it correctly.

Gawande then makes a couple of super interesting observations:

1 . For most of history, we’ve failed because of ignorance… [however] over the last several decades our knowledge has improved. This advance means that ineptitude plays a more central role in failure than ever before.

2. Failures [of ineptitude] carry an emotional valence that seems to cloud how we think about them. Failures of ignorance we can forgive. If the knowledge of the best thing to do in a given situation does not exist, we are happy to have people simply make their best effort. But if the knowledge exists and is not applied correctly, it is difficult not to be infuriated.

Parrish fleshes out #1 in a bit more details:

Today there is more to know, more to manage, more to keep track of. More systems to learn and unlearn as new ones come online. More emails. More calls. More distractions. On top of that, there is more to get right and more to learn. And this, of course, creates more opportunity for mistakes.

Our typical response, rather than recognising the inherent complexity of the system by which judgments are made, is to increase training and experience.

Gawande’s solution to the challenge is to do a better job in capturing the critical know-how through checklists.

But on a deeper level, I think that to make meaningful progress, we’d need to decouple failures of applying (“known”) knowledge from automatic judgment, at least initially. Not all of these failures are inherently blame-worthy. If we are to learn from these failures and improve, compassion may be a better emotion to start with.

From ignorance to ineptitude [Parrish/Gawande]

5 Questions for Rethinking Civilization [Edelman]

I’ve been following Joe Edelman’s writing on Medium for a few months now with mixed feelings. I’ve enjoyed seeing him explore the boundaries/future of work, often times with surprising conclusions. Yet sometimes, I found the discussions a bit too abstract or the outcome toom extreme for me to relate to.

Five Questions for Rethinking Civilization

While not perfect, it is so far the post I enjoyed the most. Questions are a powerful tool and while they’re being used here a bit more as a rhetorical tool than truly open-ended curiosity, it does not dimish their effect. Eleman questions 5 assumptions that seem deeply baked-into our current model of (western) civilization/society as a way to uncover a new path towards an interesting alternative:

  1. What can of freedom can a solitary person achieve? Edelman questions the “cult of individuality” and the limited possibilities that are available if “every man is an island”.
  2. Which is better, a society where people make moral decisions at every level, or one where moral decisions are made by “disinterested” systems and structures? The observation here is that something profound may have gotten lost by doing the latter.
  3. Is material wealth the thing to aim for? Or is it more important to create environments of meaning? Nothing new in this one. The age-old debate on the diminishing returns of wealth.
  4. What do people yearn for most: scientific knowledge, or knowledge about how to live well? The “scientific method” has not yet been applied, in all its might, towards discovering the best ways for living well.
  5. Why do we teach our children responsibility, but not integrity? This one is not that well phrased or offers a false dichotomy in my opinion. But the underlying point still rings true: there seems to be a promising upside in learning to uncover our values and living in a way that stays true to them.
5 Questions for Rethinking Civilization [Edelman]

On Equity

Henry Ward’s post:

Work @ Carta, get liquidity

Has been on my mental back-burner for a few months now.

I’m not sure that I’m fully bought into Ward’s prediction that the market will tip towards liquidity being the norm at some point in the near future, but it did make me reflect on the problem-solution fit that is equity grants.

At the core of the decision to grant employees equity, is a noble intent to give employees an upside in the future of success of the company. If the company does well — your equity stake appreciates in value. If the company doesn’t do well — your equity stake depreciates in value, all the way to the point where it may be worth nothing. I’m a strong proponent of this noble intent.

But equity also seems like an unnecessarily complex solution to accomplish said intent. Part of it has to do with the financial vehicle itself (Incentive Stock Options, or ISOs, for the purposes of this thread), and part of it has to do with the particular way that it’s being granted, which implicitly makes some assumptions on the lifecycle of the typical company which no longer seems to hold true.

Here’s a partial list of some odd “externalities” of using equity:

  • An arbitrary period of time during which equity is granted (“4-year vest”)
  • An arbitrary eligibility period (“1-year cliff”)
  • Complex tax treatment — taxes are often due before the upside can be realized
  • Cashflow constraints — options must be “exercised”, which requires a cash outflow, often times before a cash inflow is possible
  • Challenging handling of employee departure/termination (“exercise window” which further amplifies the cashflow constraint)
  • Irrelevant rights — being a shareholder grants shareholder rights that go beyond the cash value of the shares and are irrelevant to the intent stated above
  • Questionable “company success” proxy — a company’s market value is also impacted by many external factors that have little to do with the actual success or even financial health of the company
  • Limited liquidity — the ability to materialize any of the financial upside often depends on the company stock trading in a public market. An event that seems to happen later in a company’s lifecycle compared to when it used to take place, and has its own overhead and undesirable “externalities”

Maybe equity is simply the “best worst” solution. And maybe it’s time for a better solution?

On Equity