Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Exploring Forward-thinking Workplaces: How can we create workplaces where more voices matter?

Dear Readers, over the next several weeks, this CMMI Appraiser will be sharing snippets from a conversation with Bill Fox on Exploring Forward-thinking Workplaces™. Bill interviewed me about our innovative approach to creating forward-thinking workplaces. Here’s “Making Every Voice Matter at Broadsword.” Enjoy!]

Hey, Jeff,

I’d like to start by asking, how can we create workplaces where more voices matter, people thrive and find meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally? ~ Bill Fox, Exploring Forward-thinking Workplaces

Hey, Bill,

We've been struggling with this question for 10 years at Broadsword, the company I founded eleven years ago. We started out as a traditional consulting firm with a leveraged model and different levels of performers - senior consultants, directors, and managers. We were a little bit like a traditional Big 4 consulting model, which is where we some of us came from. 

Last year we had a joint epiphany. We were out there in the world talking with our clients about agile, self-organization and collaboration when we realized we weren't doing a good job at it ourselves! We really wanted to ensure that all of the smart people who worked at our company had a voice, but more importantly, felt like they were contributing and thriving in their own lives. We wanted them to feel like they were empowered to do the things they needed to do to be delighted. So I started what I call the "no victims" policy. There are no victims in our company - everyone is empowered to do what they need to do to be successful. They're empowered to resolve issues and be equals. No managers.

Of course, you can’t be successful without some level of organization, so in order to facilitate this policy, we've started to adopt a model called “Holacracy.” I was literally Googling “self-organizing companies” when I ran across the Holacracy website. I'm not sure how much you've been following Brian Robinson and his journey, but Brian created this model a number of years ago and has helped many companies find great success with self-organization. It's a constitution-based model where your organization is self-governing. In some ways it’s a super-charged version of what we’ve been doing with our clients – crisply defined processes where people have very clear defined roles in the constitution. They have a lot of input into each role, and theirs is is designed to give them the meaning they are searching for. Obviously, we have some roles that have to be performed, but there are also elective roles so that people are focusing on the things that make them most empowered and most successful in their careers.

One of the key concepts in Holacracy is "learning to separate role from soul." An individual at our company might have 20 roles. For example, I have a role such as “writer of proposals,” and another like “reviewer of financials.” I also have “teacher of classes” (a role others also have) and “planner of retreats. We're codifying all of the roles in our constitution, and are starting to become proficient in this self-organization model where every employee is responsible for their own meaning and their own innovation. It's really starting to change the face of our company.

For a while we had a couple of dedicated managers - people whose job it was to direct the other people. We realized early on we were uncomfortable with this because everyone in our company is a high performer. People needed coaching more than management, and I became concerned that too much oversight was stifling innovation (another thing we always tell our clients!). We haven't fully implemented Holacracy yet, but we are on the path. The results have been overwhelmingly positive.

[Please check back soon for Question #2 from Bill Fox on Exploring Forward-thinking Workplaces: What does it take to get an employee's full attention and best performance?]

Like this blog? Forward to your nearest engineering or software exec!

Jeff Dalton is a Certified SCAMPI Lead Appraiser, Certified CMMI Instructor, author, and consultant with years of real-world experience with the CMMI in all types of organizations. Jeff has taught thousands of students in CMMI trainings and has received an aggregate satisfaction score of 4.97 out of 5 from his students.

Visit for more information about running a successful CMMI program.

No comments: