What are glimpses of the future of work and of next:organizations? Insights of a learning journey set up by self-organized teams

Four teams in five different cities around Europe: We have just returned from a week of visiting inspiring companies, hosting conversations about new ways of organizing and harvesting insights for our work. 24 people have been on the road, travelling Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Zurich and Warsaw. More than 15 organizations that shared their next:practices, their bespoke agile and teal tools and their challenges and struggles with us. And it was all self-organized by participants of our next:pedition learning LAB and innovative program on next ways of work, organizing and leading. Now it’s time to reflect on the process and the effects for the next:guides Gerald Mitterer and Gerhard Hochreiter.

When we started our learning lab next:pedition in November 2017, we were asked not only once, why people should pay to organize their own learning journey. Against all question marks we stuck with our experiment. We believed that truly understanding and exploring self-organization, its challenges and benefits, means to experience and embody it. So we set up four teams consisting of 4-6 participants of our next:pedition program. Their objective was to create their own learning journey in Module 4 (6 months later). We encouraged the teams to use a Holacracy-based role-setup and an agile inspired sprint logic to organize effectively. In each team at least one team member was qualified in agile methodology, one in Holacracy. Additionally, they were supported by a coach that helped to kick the team off and could be consulted on the way if needed. Each team had full autonomy to decide where to go, which organizations to visit, which questions to explore. The only thing that was fixed apart from the teams was the date: June 11-15, 2018. None of us knew, if the learning journeys would ultimately work out for all teams. This was also a thrilling adventure for us guiding the next:pedition.

Now a great travelling and harvesting week is over. And amazing insights remain.

The next:pedition Module 4 – a “learning journey”.

Now a great travelling and harvesting week is over. And amazing insights remain – on different levels:

1. The social level
2. The process level
3. The content level

1: It’s always the right people. Anything that happens is the only thing that can happen and is exactly what needs to happen.

The learnings on an individual level were very much related to own beliefs and patterns. How should things be? How does success look like for me? When am I satisfied with what we have reached? What are my expectations towards myself and others? How do I take care for myself and my needs in the team? All this is rooted in experiences of yourself in a self-organized team, mastering crises, failure & successes, and dealing with interpersonal tensions. Observing and listening to our participants these learnings were the most painful but very likely the most powerful and fruitful ones. The reflections on this level allowed people to face their inner struggles and to work on them. Some important insights that emerged:

-) Build the social container first – teams that spent little time on establishing a social container (getting to know each other better, talking about expectations, visions and talents) later on voiced the lack of a “safe space”. This was hindering them to open up and leverage their full potential.

-) Irritations have priority! (Ruth Cohn). The quicker you tackle turbulence on interpersonal struggles in a constructive manner, the better the results. The worst thing is a “let’s get back to work”-mentality that assumes people could put their emotions aside and be purely rational about things. Slow down to speed up! Interpersonal tensions not addressed properly, leak inappropriately.

-) If in doubt, trust or confront. If you are not happy or confident with what your team mates are doing, how they perform or how they decide, you got to choose: either you trust that they are making their best efforts – or you confront them with your perspective.

-) Be kind, everyone’s fighting a battle within. The more teams seek to understand the needs of people in their team and find pathways to treat phenomena such as conflict as opportunities to learn about each other’s patterns the more productive they get. Once you get a deeper understanding of why people are triggered by situations empathy dramatically increases.

2: Without role clarity or a clear decision process, consensus-seeking takes over.

In the beginning, we encouraged groups to get explicit about their role setup (using e.g. Holacracy) and their approach to collaborating (e.g. agile practices) and deciding (e.g. Consent). Some of the teams picked up on that, others didn’t. Among the insights were the following:

-) A shared purpose eases every subsequent step. In absence of a clear WHY alignment is far harder and needed more often.

-) Lack of role clarity traps teams in consensus seeking and endless discussions or no decisions at all. And it is very hard to overcome these patterns once established.

-) Team rituals (such as check-ins and check-outs) and regular reflection on their collaboration (e.g. retrospectives) support smoother processes and a greater collaboration experience.

-) Being explicit about expectations and agreeing on rules of engagement provides a safer space for people.

Both learnings on individual and team level were only possible due to the self-organized setup. If we as guides had organized a journey for the participants none of this could have been learned – it would have been a “tourist-trip” rather a deep dive learning journey.

3: The question of any learning journey is not IF we can learn something, but WHAT we can learn.

When we mapped next:land in 2015 for the Harvard Business Manager we started to explore what the DNA of next:land is. What are the basic underlying principles that seem important for organizations that stand the test of time in dynamic complexity? We ended up with five principles of next:land, captured in our next:land manifesto. And we harvested the insights of our visits along these five principles.

We will share our insights, learnings and loads of practices on each of these principles in the next weeks.

What are practices that organizations use to support evolutionary learning?
How does purpose-orientation manifest in organizations?
What does foster transparency in organizations?

Stay hungry, stay foolish & stay tuned.

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