Becoming Jellyfish: Blowing Up The Org Chart
Knocking down a traditional hierarchy and reforming your organization in a more distributed way leads to a new balance of power. As a result, all of the traditional roles adapt to take on more decision making. This has a big impact in the current reality, and on the future direction of the organization. Let’s take a look at the roles at nGen and how they are changing.
The person, or people, who were previously in charge have to step down and assume a team role. We consider that role to be about managing the community. As someone who is going through this transition, I can assure you it is not easy. As with all members of a jellyfish team, you have to put your ego aside. Especially considering you hold all of the power.
But you have to ask yourself: What good is power if I have no life? That is the big promise for the former decision makers who step down — they get their lives back. They also begin tapping into the total brain power of the organization. No longer does every decision rest with them. They can breathe easier. But that doesn’t mean life is all wine and roses.
What good is power if I have no life?
Perhaps the most important role of the new community manager is making sure the team is holding itself accountable. This leads to real conversations about how things unfold. It means not letting awkward silence sit in a message thread, but poking it instead to see what’s going on. It means preventing small hierarchies from forming as the company grows and some like-minded individuals start dominating conversations or decisions. It’s human nature to want to win, and there is nothing wrong with winning. (Take it from someone with a huge ego who hates to lose.) But the definition of winning shifts from short-term small victories to long-term sustainable successes. From a team with superstars to a team that wins together, and where everyone becomes a superstar.
Of course, there will come a time when the community manager is asked to make a decision nobody wants to touch. If a serious disagreement occurs, it is the manager’s role to gather the pertinent information to find a resolution. Sometimes that resolution may mean somebody has to leave the team. There are any number of scenarios where bad things may happen. This could also include a group making a decision that others in the community disagree with. At this point, the community manager still has the power of veto, a power that can’t be used often and must be thoroughly explained when used. Otherwise, the whole concept of distributed power falls apart. But, as we’ve found, many on the team want to know that power still exists.
The community manager’s job isn’t easy. This is probably the toughest and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I’ve had a few prominent business leaders tell me that this isn’t repeatable. That other owners or decision makers won’t step down or will only pay lip service to it. I really hope that’s a pile of crap. If not, they’ll never get to see the view from here. Letting go is amazing.
Of course, you have to have the right people to make this transition. There is no place to hide in a jellyfish organization. Especially when you consider that the former decision maker has released some responsibilities that will fall to the team.
Formerly at the bottom of the hierarchy in many ways, the producers (writers, designers, developers, etc.) now find themselves in the driver’s seat. While they are still responsible for the quality of the work, they now get to decide what comes in, how it is scoped and what process should be followed. They are also responsible for managing the entire project from beginning to end. This is empowering for some, and scary for others. Help can always be asked for, but the final decisions belong to the project team.
The impact of this reaches far beyond the day-to-day in the organization. The producers are now the ones deciding not only what they will work on, but what type of work the company will be known for. What types of skills the company will invest in. What technologies will be used. They drive the future growth of the team and the direction of the company by the decisions they make.
In other words, they are in charge.
When a new project comes in, the project team has to select a champion. It normally falls to the person who either has the most experience, the strongest project management skills, or the most interest in the project. Sometimes there are several champions. And other times, everyone’s a champion. The important thing is that someone takes the responsibility for the success of the project.
If nobody steps up to be the champion, the community manager will talk with the team to see why. Often it’s based on other commitments. Sometimes it’s a little intimidating. To be a champion means to know everything that’s going on with a project and help guide the team to success.
A champion’s role is one of support, communication and leadership. The champion works with the other team members to ensure that everyone is feeling good about the roles they share and the direction they are going.
In a jellyfish organization, each team member becomes responsible for his or her own growth. Championing a project is a huge opportunity as well as a big responsibility. But champions won’t be alone. Along with support from the community manager, the champion can lean on what we call our concierge service.
In order to prevent the producers from being distracted, a concierge service offering budget, scheduling, research and client communication support is available for all projects. The one thing we don’t want to see is great producers failing because they are being asked to manage aspects of a project they don’t have the skill sets for or time to do correctly. It is the one centralized service we have at nGen and it is praised constantly. The main job of the concierge is to provide air cover for the teams so they can focus. Given the additional distractions created for producers in a jellyfish organization, this role becomes even more important.
New Business Facilitators
A role often adopted by the former decision makers, facilitating new business is much less time consuming than in the past. We talk about our new business process in last week’s blog post. The one thing we didn’t discuss is how new business facilitators are selected. In our case, I actually asked one of our long-time, trusted nGeneers to help me, and she said yes. Then within a few weeks, one of our newer UX designers asked if he could help. I said, “of course”; I mean, I’m not in charge of it. The way this happened sums up how we work. If we need help, we ask. If we want to try something new, we do it. In time, either the community or the marketplace will let us know if we’ve made the right decision.
Coming Up Soon
In a few weeks the blog we’ll be taking a slight detour to talk about tips for distributed teams. It’s something several of our readers have asked for and we’re happy to oblige. In complete disclosure, we still struggle with the distributed nature of our company, but we’ll share the good, the bad and the ugly. Hopefully you will, too!
The first Jellyfish Newsletter will go out soon with more detail on our actual new business conversations.
Your roles and responsibilites
Tell us about the roles and responsibilities in your organization. Are you trying anything new or frustrated by seemingly unavoidable silliness?