Welcome to our interview with Jeff Dalton. Jeff is a Process Innovator, Chief Evangelist at AgileCxO, Author and CEO at Broadsword Solutions. Jeff”s latest book is Great Big Agile, An OS for Agile Leaders. You can learn more about Jeff and Broadsword at his company website.
Welcome to this forum Jeff, and thank you for contributing to the questions that are at the heart of the Exploring Forward Thinking Workplaces 2.0 conversation.
How can we create workplaces where more voices matter, people thrive and find meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?
Jeff Dalton: 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 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.We wanted to ensure that all of the smart people who worked at our company had a voice by empowering everyone to do what they need to do to be successful.
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 Robertson 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 clearly defined roles in the constitution. They have a lot of input into each role, and their role 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.People needed coaching more than management, and I became concerned that too much oversight was stifling innovation.
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.