In the past few months, our company has once again grown beyond all expectations. Month by month, new experts are being added in the Java, UX and data science areas. Our company was founded in 2005, and just as with any company structure at the start, ours was a flat hierarchy with short communication lines. However, that inevitably changes with time. But we don’t want to do the typical thing and add departments and rigid organizational layers. In a lab (you can read more about what a lab is, here) some clever thinkers at our company looked at various promising concepts in how we might restructure our organization. Our management made this possible, having desired a development process that comes from the very midst of our company: the employees. The ideas developed in this Org and Strategy Lab, as it was called, were designed to promote topics such as transparency, the exchange of knowledge, better contact among colleagues and interests.
We don’t want to reinvent the wheel here, and in the pragmatic world of software development, that wouldn’t be a good idea anyway. Rather, the strengths and weaknesses of existing frameworks and patterns were evaluated to see how they would fit into the relevant process. For example, we looked at the approach that the Swedish company, Spotify, together with Crisp used. Anders Ivarsson, agile coach at Spotify, and Henrik Kniberg, agile consultant at Crisp, introduced the ideas that came out of the restructuring at Spotify, in October 2012. A year prior to that, the company had begun to restructure its internal structures based on that concept. The results presented by Ivarsson and Kniberg overlap with comSysto’s ideas on communities of practice, in a fresh and appealing way.
Rome wasn’t built…
in a day. Exactly right. And thus, in the Org and Strategy Lab group, a decision was made to focus on a small initial part of the overall concept. The introduction of guilds seemed a promising way to drive the inter-networking within the company and to serve as a “motor” for new and innovative lab ideas. In a nutshell, two topics were looked at, which management saw as the goal of this iteration. Up to that time, in management’s eyes, the lab concept had not been used as was desired. The company also has a monetary interest in developing new ideas and skills that can be marketed, in this way. In addition, in the few months leading up to that, there were more and more internal discussions to the effect that the company was too split up among its various business fields, which was putting a brake on communication and the exchange of knowledge. For example, some colleagues work on customer projects throughout the year, and others work in internal projects and outbound marketing in our offices.
On September 20th, 2013, there was a company-wide kick-off, at which all employees were invited to define the guilds. Almost everyone accepted the invitation, and over 40 comSystoians got together on “neutral ground”, to carry out this assignment. The reason was that the process of defining the guilds was meant to be purely employee-driven. After a motivational way-forward speech presented by management and a short introduction to the concept of guilds by Johnannes, Ina and Max took us through the day and provided us with information on the concept of the open space.
There could not have been a better moderation concept for the day. The slots on the board filled quickly and the relevant topics were promoted with gusto — from big data visualization over software performance to company-internal knowledge management.
The participants developed the range of topics and had to defend them and expand on them as part of the discussion. The involvement by the participants was constructive. These discussion rounds were used as a place where the various topic areas in the subsequent guild determination activity could be brought together, as a whole. As of that point, the focus was on interesting people in the specific topic areas. A guild could be formed as soon as five people joined it. After that, the process developed on its own. The initial guilds became “stable” and the people not already in one now had a good selection to choose from. That also meant that after that, fewer active participants then had to be integrated into a guild, and they were now able to join a guild of their choice. When a guild got to be 12 persons, they were told that splitting it up was a good idea. By the end of the day, all of the participants were in a guild and the open space process was a success, just based on that alone. The participants also thought so.
At the time, some people, and even some members of the initiating lab, were not sure whether the process would be a success or not, or if the idea would be readily accepted. Today, four weeks after the kick-off, all the guilds have already had an initial meet date, or at least set one. So the concept has been widely accepted. Only the coming months will be able to show whether this achieves the goals of the Org and Strategy Lab investigation. All comSystoians are called on — including management, who we now may call our guild fathers – to anchor this new structure in our company.