How we share responsibility in a self-organizing company

When people look from the outside, they often make the assumption that in a self-organizing company everyone has full autonomy and is making all decisions individually. It sounds like a recipe for chaos, running in opposite directions, and zero coordination. Luckily, that is not the case at Gini.

At Gini, we have a blend of about 80 percent autonomy (decision making coming from individuals and coordinated, cross-functional teams) with alignment and coordination coming from those who have reputational hierarchy. (Read this post for more information.)

We’ve written about what self-organizing means here, so in this post we’ll highlight what we’ve learned about how shared responsibility needs to look in such an environment. (And one way we are making it work better.)

Everyone’s responsibility = Everyone’s responsibility

At Gini, we did not want to fall into the trap of “when it’s everyone’s responsibility, it’s no one’s responsibility”. Instead of assigning responsibilities, people have roles that align with their position. To the outside world, it looks like a job description. However, once you enter our culture, you’ll learn that multiple roles may make up your position responsibilities. This means that your roles may change over time and you, as owner, have the possibility to make changes to the roles over time.

Most Ginis start with two roles. The role associated with the position they were hired for and the Gini role that everyone shares. However, some Ginis immediately have several roles that cover several areas of responsibility. They could link directly to what they were hired to do, like business development, but also their deeper areas of domain expertise, like innovation team member (someone focused on innovation).

In my case, I was hired as an agile coach, one of two roles. Actually a larger part of my work is in the Org Lead role (organizational faculty lead). Having the responsibilities of supporting agile practices separated from overall organizational initiatives ensures that the right initiatives (those that grow agility and learning) are started, and completed, but not necessarily done by me.

It’s critical that everyone in a self-organizing culture recognizes their contribution in decision-making, information flow, and change. This means that change initiatives can come from anywhere in the organization, and also have a guiding hand to keep them in sync with our purpose and cultural values.

However, we recognize that ultimately, everyone at Gini must acknowledge and commit to being a member of a self-organizing culture by understanding their shared responsibility in making this a great company.

Self-organizing demands shared responsibility

Many of us have heard the corporate speak (mostly empty) that says “Welcome to the team! We welcome your new and fresh perspective!” Which is quickly hushed up when we have a question about how something is done, or a challenge around why it’s done a certain way. “Oh, you’re new, you’ll learn that’s just the way it’s done around here. Just be quiet, listen and learn.”

At Gini we see that as a huge loss of improvement potential.

What we have done instead is create an explicit Gini role. This is a shared role, that every Gini owns.

When you join us, we make explicit that your responsibilities will include helping to hire colleagues by attending interviews, or even leading them, and helping to write the job description. You will also be expected to challenge financial or strategic plans if you perceive them as contrary to our purpose or principles.

But isn’t this a given? Why do we spell it out? We believe in transparency, and one way we practice that is by making our expectations clear and explicit. By giving people an explicit invitation (with written proof that they are expected to do this) team members are more likely to speak up and act.

Every Gini’s mandate is:

»To live the Gini values in a way that enables myself and the organization to grow and work towards our shared vision, mission and BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). To ultimately achieve our purpose — put people first by creating space for more meaningful activities.«

The shared responsibilities are clearly defined (ie. strive for personal and professional growth and use my education budget) not to manage or control, but to provide a scope for team members to hold each other accountable. This keeps expectations aligned and opens a door to productive conversations when there are conflicts.

There are also clear requests around collaboration (ie. reject or accept calendar invites in 24 hours, participate in peer feedback sessions, use the law of two feet when not a mandatory meeting), to give a framework for expectations. When we are in agreement not only about the what, but about the how, it creates trust and eases people into challenging others in a more productive way.

Expectations are not rules

The Gini role is not about keeping people in line and following rules. We truly believe that people want to contribute their talents and skills to something meaningful and find real satisfaction and happiness in being part of a shared effort. We are Theory Y (which is why we focus on creating happy people) champions.

However, many of us are coming from environments where we were conditioned to avoid mistakes, ask permission for fear of punishment, and generally give away our power (and only sometimes the responsibility). At Gini, we intentionally provide a learning environment for shared responsibility, and recognize it takes practice.

Reminding each other of what shared responsibility looks like at Gini and why we chose to be self-organizing is done by having written artifacts and events. Our written artifacts are constantly reviewed, revised, and reflected upon, just like handbook. This is how we keep them alive and evolving. The events, like our Supergini stories, are moments where we all get to practice behaviors that reflect and support our culture.

We practice, constantly.

Great people develop great products

If this all sounds like a lot of time and energy — it is. Could it be better spent on operation or functional tasks? We don’t think so. Our experience is that there are many ways to organize a company (we’ve tried most of them) and so far, this one is helping us to fulfill our purpose and create wonderful products in a human-centered way. For us, our organizational culture is effective in developing great people — and they develop great products.

This culture is not for everyone, so we don’t evangelize that it is. It’s for those who are eager to contribute their energy and skills to building a culture of shared responsibility and innovative products.

Growing as individuals is not only a side-effect, but a feature.

 

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If this sounds like an environment where you would thrive, have a look at our open positions and get in touch. We are looking for people to join us on our mission.

Susanne Taylor

Coach & Facilitator focused on constant learning and development in self, teams, and organizations. Agile coach @Gini

At Gini, we want our posts, articles, guides, white papers and press releases to reach everyone. Therefore, we emphasize that both female, male, and other gender identities are explicitly addressed in them. All references to persons refer to all genders, even when the generic masculine is used in content.