we invited movement - we had no permission - we changed our company
What Happened? What were we part of?
We were part of an organic movement for change. We invited a large industrial and well established company (Airbus) to begin a transformation for more empowerment, individual freedom and personal responsibility, a place where adult-adult relationships and collective intelligence are the emerging forces for action.
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How does it look now?
The answer to this can only be very subjective.
Airbus appears to be evolving:
- There is widespread talk and actual implementation of more and more cross functional networks and internal entrepreneurialism
- Bureaucracy seems to be more openly challenged.
- The current CEO openly talks about removing ‘command and control‘ culture.
- 1000s of people are actively engaged in making their company better. There are many informal networks bring value across boundaries in many fields, from real technical innovation to personal growth.
- There are internal marketplaces for resource sharing.
- There is now an official movement within the HR function tasked with allowing the growth of the empowerment movement.
- But it’s surely a long story. with 130,000 people all realities probably exist inside this organization.
Why did we do this?
Low engagement, slow innovation, over control, bureaucracy, politics, the relative meaninglessness of the work, the emergence of Industry 4.0, real disruptive competition in some sectors, lack of obvious leadership awareness and capability in the face of Industry 4.0… These were just some of the views, words and phrases we were heard and experienced often.
We had the feeling that it could not go on; not from a business, or a human perspective.
We had to act. It was driven from our beliefs in more connected, more fluid, more open ways of being together at work and in life.
How did it start?
We were amongst a group of internal employees that wanted changed. We did not wait for permission; we used digital platforms and hands on action to stimulate a crowd movement.
In late 2015 we ‘hacked‘ an innovation event. We invited Isaac Getz to talk about ‘liberated companies’ and when we saw how many people were excited about this aspect of innovation we knew it was the time to act.
If we wanted to secure a great future for this company, AND have a fantastic human centred working experience… We felt that we needed to DO SOMETHING as opposed to wait for a top down ‘change program’.
At the same time an internal social media platform was put in place as part of the ‘digital transformation’ of the company: this changed everything. We could now instantly reach out to 130,000+ people without resorting to the organization chart and chain of command. We could communicate easily across functions, divisions, countries and employee categories AND we could build communities of practice; just like in the real world.
No time was lost to create the ‘Empowering Organisations’ community. A place where people could express their thoughts and feelings, discuss opinions, share information and experience and crucially to begin to challenge the status quo.
We understood quickly that asking tough questions was the way to get the dialogue started. For example: “What is the Massive Transformative Purpose of this company? The existing corporate statement means nothing to me. Where do you stand in relation this statement?”
How did it unfold?
Through internal and external social media, workshops, event hacking, meet-ups, regular meetings, daily work, sharing of articles, videos, making our own videos, and the continuous questing of they way things were, we built a movement and connected people together.
It happened through open dialogue.
Confidence to act came through the online community. People could see what was happening; at least people who were interested enough to take notice.
Through the network we could get connected to people and teams who wanted to start something. We went there, tried things, failed, learned, tried again and shared everything. Things started to take shape in various different teams and across the whole organisation.
This was a very organic emergence. The people part of it was closely linked with the innovation and digitalization part: all through informal networks.
The was no strategy, there was no plan. And it certainly wasn’t always fun or successful. But it came, step by step.
The iterative nature of things was an important insight: no one solution fits every individual, team or wider organization. There are only commonalities that can be explored across different areas and with different people.
Internal and external social media were the basis for connection across boundaries: this was the basis for thinking about scalability. Physical connection and action was what made it real.
Supporting individuals and teams at all levels, sharing, inspiring people to take action, inviting them to collaborate on change making. These was where the real transformation happened.
Many of the tactics were borrowed from the world of social change. After all why is changing company like Airbus any different from changing a community outside of work? We looked at Gandhi, Luther King, Mandela: what did they do?
We tested out crowd movement building using crowd sourced objectives and tactics. This brought out many great ideas such as:
- a campaign for ridiculous job titles, or no job titles
- regular voluntarily run webinars about empowerment, self organization, industrial disruption…
- a campaign for self awareness in terms of conscious awareness of conditioning.
- inviting for mindfulness clubs, or Non-Violent Communication meet-ups/networks (amongst many other groups).
- sticker campaigns of provocative messages in many toilets and on gateways into the site.
- protesting senior managers and other #ResponsibleEmployeeActivism interventions.
- writing satirical articles about the company culture and posting them on social media: see www.managing-spaghetti.com.
The peak event for change was the ‘Fringe Festival’: a gathering of 200+ dedicated employees who want to show what was already happening inside the company and how it was happening in spite of the ongoing top down change initiatives.
The CEO came and saw that this was about people taking action and responsibility for a better future. This was a kickstart for HR: why was this movement not coming from them?
Things accelerated after this #ResponsibleEmployeeActivism intervention.
Ultimately the scalability came down to people seeing that things were really happening, and having the feeling that they had the permission to try things.
We often gave people permission without any official basis for doing so. Perhaps this was the biggest aspect of influence: having the feeling of being allowed to try.
What did we learn?
We discovered and optimized really simple and practical approaches to inviting change and scaling. We worked with teams and individuals at all levels of the organization. To see how this is manifested now, take a look at the what we do page.
There are a number of key insights worth going into here. These are the real essence of what we learnt.
Insight 1 – It can start anywhere
The first major learning was that it can start anywhere. Sure at some point those who have power and resources can and should get involved in order to give blessing, support, or at least not get in the way.
To get to the point of CEO ‘public’ adoption took us around 2.5 years. Even this perspective is somewhat simplified
If you really think it through, it makes total sense; every action you take with your colleagues to improve things is a change initiative, and at some level it will have impact. The only difference here is that we had the idea to scale the initiative across 1000s of people using the crowd.
If you want to change things, just start… then see what happens.
Insight 2 – its about human evolution more than a particular model or theory
To transform in the direction of a more flexible, collaborative, innovative organization, it seems necessary to soften boundaries. Boundaries and traditions don’t need to be wiped out (as long as they’re useful); they can be honoured, but softening is key.
In reality, most boundaries are abstract (i.e. they exist merely on paper or in the mind). This or that department, this or that budget code, this is or that identity… Many people seem very attached to such kind of abstract lines of delineation.
If we want to soften boundaries, perhaps we need to invite people to soften their attachment to them?
If you simply roll out a new model of organizing things, without doing the ground work first, well good luck. Perhaps the first problem you hit you’ll be back to the old ways.
But HOW? Personal growth? AND what does it mean?
In this context it means: becoming aware of what is happening within you from moment to moment, and using it to guide you in addition to what your mind is telling you.
It does not necessarily mean having some deep analysis of cause and effect (like blaming your peculiar form of frustration with life on the time when your mother dropped you); only what is, without judgement at this very moment. For example, you might be tired, bored, excited, angry, judgemental and so on. You might be experiencing a range of these things, with part of your being bored and another part willing to be a good student and pay attention to your bosses slides.
Becoming aware of these things takes time and practice.
But this does not mean leaving work, meditating in a cave or joining a Buddhist monastery: NO – you are not alone in this world, and certainly not at work.
This means learning how to express what is real for you, whether it’s good, painful, judgemental, angry – YES to be radically honest (first to yourself and then with others).
And on the other side of the conversation to learn how to listen, to suspend judgement, and to be in relation to your own inner experience in relation to the outer experience.
When you can create in yourself the willingness to be honest, and the co created pace to accept this and reflect on all that comes with your colleagues, without playing games with each other (an environment of ‘psychological safety‘ according to google), then you will connect and move together.
Through this human connection and shared vulnerability, you will create the space to change together. You will be able to test and learn with any system of organization. You will be able to relate with your interfacing groups on a more adult level to engage in the tough conversations of life.
You will become change agents by virtue of being different.
Insight 3 – laugh about it
The third most important lesson we learnt was that it is essential to be able to laugh at it all (including at yourself): you have the right to fail and restart everyday.
We discovered that it was very important to highlight our own regular failings and laughing about them. Claiming for example: “I ain’t no saint“, and “I have the right to be shit, and so do you”. This in itself is an opportunity to open dialogue on what’s going on. What is my reality? What is yours? What sense can we make of all this?
Yes I can be a good listener, but also a bad one. Yes I can be very generous and also very selfish. Yes I can be very empathetic, but also a mean bastard… I know this, and on some level, so do you. So please spare each other the righteous saintly coaching posture. BE REAL. Authenticity does not equal perfection. Perfection is an ideal (see insight 5).
When we can all welcome the complete paradoxes and complexities of human life, and do it with a humorous smile, then we can move without falling into polarisation and blockages. We will get closer thanks to our shared humanity.
Insight 4 – DO it, live it, don’t just talk about it
The fourth major lesson was to simply start and don’t bother with up front THEORY, or at least to minimise it as best as you can. This is linked to doing and experiencing over thinking and imagining.
During our team workshops we simply invited open space, then took them from where they were. Step by step introducing ideas and inviting continuous reflection on how conscious the people where about their inter-relational practices. Often diving out of ‘doing’ work to reflect through Authentic Relating Games or Circling: great tools for connection to yourself and others.
This way, they would be doing the new ways without even realising it. And certainly without having the chance to say: “that won’t work here”.
Insight 5 – beware of dogmatism and idealism
The fifth lesson is that attachment to any form of dogmatism in what you want for the team or company is dangerous and futile.
As soon as we tried to roll out agile, or holacracy or whatever it was, when it became the thing we got lost.
People, including us a the beginning, began to focus on application of the text book instead of what was making sense for us/them, in their specific context and moment, and losing focus on the process dialogue.
Dialogue, continuous contemplative practice and improvement on the relating process was the only way we found to allow things move and to bring people into a position of responsibility for themselves.
That is not to say that it makes no sense to learn about different methodologies and even get training and try things… but be pragmatic; and do it step by step.
We made a lot of mistakes and we caused a lot of discomfort, but we also helped a lot of people to stand up, grow up, clean up, and take responsibility for building a better company from the inside out.
Finally we got were asked to leave in some fashion or another (for “being too disruptive”, although there was politics involved). Even this was a lesson in relational transparency: #i-aint-no-saint. It’s all cool.
Now it appears that the company is moving. We can’t be sure that we are the only reason for this transformation journey, but we definitely had impact.
We will likely be forgotten in the historical narrative of this 130 000 people company; but this is ok. Real change is done by the people themselves in their specific context.
Sometimes all they need is the permission to act; and sometimes this doesn’t come from where you might expect it to.
Is it repeatable?
No two complex situations are ever the same. Nevertheless, when we strip this movement building down to some core principles, there should be no reason why similar situations could not unfold at other organizations.
Round 2 is already occurring at Engie: in this case the top down decision was given at the beginning. The bottom up movement building was also triggered at the same time.
We’re connecting to people all the time who are starting to raise movements in their companies.
Make culture your strategy. Become resilient and thrive in an emergent world.
We are TheTeaMakers
Individually and collectively we are living the human narrative of inviting and building real change in organisations.
More specifically, change that brings about:
- A real collaborative and innovative environment between maturing, responsible adults
- An environment that is inherently innovative in both existing and emergent business models
- An environment that helps people and the organisation become adaptable and resilient in the face of a complex reality
- An environment that is healthy, wholesome and human centric in this world of disconnection, isolation and compartmentalisation.
We have been part of this kind of change at a large industrial corporation; we know it can be done even in the most unlikely of places. This is our story.
Now we would like to help you if you really want to make change. We can help you to build your own change movement, at your own speed, and in your own specific way. We do not prescribe solutions; we help you to let them emerge.
Make culture your strategy. Become resilient and thrive in an emergent world.
What's this got to do with tea anyway?
Inviting and rolling with change is a bit like making a cup of nice refreshing tea isn’t it?
You most likely have all the ingredients somewhere; you need to through them together and wait. How long is a question of taste and environmental conditions. You might be able to accelerate the process by giving it a stir. Sometimes it goes wrong, but mostly it’s ok: you make the best of it. That’s life?
Make culture your strategy. Become resilient and thrive in an emergent world.
What Inspired Us?
- Happiness at Work Teaser part 1 and part 2
- David Marquet – Turn The Ship Around
- Enterprise Liberee. Be sure to set English subtitles if you don’t understand French
Books & Web
- Reinventing Organizations (Frederic Laloux)
- Reinventing Organisations wiki – full of great tips
- Freedom Incorporated (Isaac Getz)
- Enlivening Edge Community
- Exponential Organizations (Salim Ismail)
- Resourceful Humans & their incredible tools and cultural change approach
- The LEAN Startup (Eric Riese)
- Value Proposition Design / Business Model Canvas
- Liberating Structures
- Agile SCRUM methodology
- A Way of Being & On becoming a Person (Carl Rogers)
- The Singularity University
- David Marquet – Intent Based Leadership
- The Conscious Leadership Group
- Alan Watts
- Eckhart Tolle
- Ken Wilber – Integral Theory
We hope you enjoy this expression of our journey. We would like to pay tribute to people who inspired us : Carole, Raphael, Glenn, Laurent, Patrick, Charles, Francois (2), Marcella, Serge, Brian, Vincent, Bastian, Mick, Alexia, Marshall Rosenberg, Paul, Navi, Vincent, Veeresh …and anyone else that we have forgotten to mention.