Over the past few years I’ve had an itch I’ve been trying to scratch, an idea that I was struggling to explain. I spoke to many people about it and did talks about it in front of interested audiences, but I never felt that I was getting my point across as well as I wanted.
Despite my failure to explain it, the idea has been gaining some traction, thanks to people better at explaining it than me. It’s been called open culture, its been called transparency or transparent companies and its been called teal. Big companies like Buffer and Zappos have tried it. It’s the idea behind holocracy. I’ve been calling it agile organisation, because it embraces the best elements, at least in my mind, of agile software development. But I’ve now decided to drop that name as the comparison to agile software just gets in the way.
So here is a reading list. A set of the books I’ve found that best explains the idea I’ve been trying to explain, along with my narrative of how they fit together. If you only read one of these books, make it Reinventing Organisations, it’s the only one that covers the whole subject. But please try to read all 4, ideally in this order. It will give you more answers while guiding you step by step through learning a new mindset.
For most jobs in the world, the “ideal employee” does the tasks described in the company’s policies and protocols, or does what your boss tells them to do. Using initiative is a problem, because it doesn’t fit in with the plan. Seth Godin argues that the future belongs to people to defy this “ideal employee” role. That to secure your future in the workplace you need to stand out, be creative, and become a linchpin your organisation depends on.
What happens when an entire organisation is made up of people who don’t need to be told by the boss what to do? Does chaos ensue or is there a way to turn that creativity into a productive organisation? Frederic Laloux explores not only how it work, both in theory and in practice, but also ties it in with sociological research into how the human race’s perception of the world is ever changing.
If everyone in the organisation is doing what they think is right, and there are no, or fewer bosses, how do you budget? How do you control the flow of money out of a company? Bjarte Bogsnes explains that the idea of controlling the finances is counter productive. You can never control the future, which is what most attempts at setting a budget try and do. Instead you can explain the past (with great precision) and use that to give everyone the information they need to make sensible spending choices. No explicit top-down control of finances is necessary
How do you get many people working together, with no, or fewer bosses and prevent arguments? Marshal Rosenberg shows that most communication can be violent or nonviolent, that it’s scarily easy to be violent most of the time, and that violent communication leads to the arguments. Arguments can’t be eliminated, but they can become useful.