Third meeting – wrap up

Earlier this week we had our third #achnee meetup, kindly hosted by Europace. The meetup ran as an experiment: It was scheduled as a half day meetup. Discussed during the last #achee meetup in January, the event was put together within a month.

As first speaker we had Leif Hannack explaining which steps his team at Europace is currently taking to create a more flexible, remote friendly work environment. He started with an interesting number: 30 is not only the number of vacation days employees at Europace get, but also the number of days spent commuting to and back from work assuming a one way duration of 30 minutes each day. A good motivator to work towards a remote friendly environment.

Europace itself has a large focus on autonomy and self organisation when it comes to team coordination. To put his talk in that context Leif started with detailing the four corner stones that are important for self organising teams:

  • Transparency and a clear vision statement
  • Principles instead of a fixed set of rules
  • Fast decision making
  • A circle based organisation

To pick out just one aspect: Fast decision making here is achieved by consent based decision making. this means in absence of objections experiments can be run to tune the current organisation. Absence of objections usually means those experiments are good enough to try out, they are reversible, the are save enough to try and mistakes are allowed. That way a bias for action is achieved not only for technical decisions but also for organisational changes.

The goal with circle based organisation is to strive for reduced dependencies, reduced communication and maximal autonomy of teams.

From that base they started experimenting with remote work setups. The first conclusion: VPN must work seemlessly, there needs to be no difference between your desk at work and your home office desk. The second learning: Coming from an onsite first company, encouraging remote work and avoiding isolation of remote workers is an important point: Transparent communication (here via Slack), async standups, coming up with a decision making process that enables remote workers to participate are examples of learnings.

I guess the biggest learning here is to adapt a cycle of making changes, observing, learning and adapting the process.

The second talk unfortunately had to be cancelled.

The third talk by Björn Schneider covered the topic of full income transparency. The “People and Organisation” part of Eurpoace ran an experiment to make income discussions a team topic that is fully transparent to all team members. They are a team of four, experienced coaches, so the ideal guinea pig.

Walking through the experiment they started with putting their salary on a white board. First question: What is part of that number? Do mobile phones count? What about part time workers?

They tried several approaches: Each coming up with numbers what others should earn … leading to very interesting discussions. Each posting a wish and pitching for that (loudest wins …). What worked in the end was coming up with a baseline income for Junior not yet on the team and extrapolating from there what others should get based on a natural ordering agreed upon up-front.

Some learnings:

  • You need a limiting element, otherwise there’s a risk of inflation. In this experiment the limiting element was given by those higher in the ordering – they needed to exhibit strong entrepreneurial thinking.
  • Another finding: Income tends to grow on an exponential scale instead of a linear scale. This can be frustrating when trying to find new people. In a fully transparent setting it will also be frustrating for those not at the top end.
  • Concerning feedback: When given by the one manager there are a couple caveats – you cannot give feedback on things you don’t understand. As a manager’s skills aren’t supersets of theihttp://dict.leo.org/englisch-deutsch/%C3%BCberforderungr direct reports, there will always be areas they cannot judge. When giving negative feedback typically means finding a balance between being full transparency and avoiding the panic zone. When told not enough people tend to overestimate themselves and feel underpaid, telling everything verbatim can be hard to bear though and potentially has negative repercussions on performance and team climate.
  • Concerning excessive demand: Transforming an organisation to more self organisation means balancing growing decision freedom with excessive demand on individuals. Handing freedom back implies handing responsibility back: Typically certain tasks are implicitly delegated to management by their teams. The transformation to more self organisation means that sooner or later the reason for the mere existence of management will be questioned, it means that with more freedom teams get more responsibility, by extension sooner or later this begs the question of where growing freedom has to stop to avoid excessive demand.

The learning of this particular experiment was that it won’t be repeated in its full form again. However individual bits and pieces will be re-used on a path towards more transparency. To read more on those checkout this blog post on “Tratschen in Anwesenheit” for more on how to delegate giving feedback to the team. More on Leading by consent and in circles available as well.

Despite the fact the workshop had one talk less then expected the time was well filled: We had plenty of time for questions and discussions. People stayed well after the estimated close-doors time we’d set at the beginning chatting about potentials, strengths and challenges of self organisation in the corporate environment.

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