Building a Thriving Organizational Ecosystem

Creating the Future is reinventing itself, to ensure our organizational structure is not only supporting our efforts to accomplish our mission, but is modeling our vision and values in every way. The following summarizes our efforts through the end of 2015, as we head into our January 2016 meeting on the subject. For a complete accounting of every post on this subject, please click on this category link for Organizational Structure.

In November of 2015, Creating the Future’s board began answering this question:

“What organizational structure / organizing system will be itself a contribution to accomplishing our mission – that people everywhere know how to naturally bring out the best in people in any situation, through the questions they ask?”

During our December meeting, it was no longer just our board members “inside” the meeting with community members “outside” – watching and tweeting. Those community members were inside the meeting, participating actively in the conversation, as we strove to determine the conditions a structure would have to create, in order for that structure to actively contribute to the mission. The result of that conversation was an image so vivid that everyone present felt the structure forming as we spoke.

On Monday, January 11th, we will continue this conversation, with the goal of coming up with a work plan for creating the structure – and eventually flipping the switch, where Creating the Future as it has run since its inception will become the Creating the Future that will create the future.

To further that conversation, the following is a summary of where we’ve been so far.

Meetings Earlier in 2015
Our community’s discussion of restructuring arose from months of realizing the influence of structure on the following systems:

• Decision-making and leadership
• Coordination of activities and relationships
• People-infrastructure – support for bringing out the best in people
• Stuff-infrastructure – everything from admininstrative support to website support, from resources (including but not limited to money) to regulatory compliance
•Connecting, engaging, inviting, welcoming, network weaving

In all cases, the issues around structure involved questions such as “Who gets to decide?” and “Whose job is it to connect?” and “Who can speak for the organization?” – the common sorts of organizational questions that tend to stop innovation in its tracks. Using Catalytic Thinking, we knew that the answers to these questions would emerge, if we began at the beginning – with what we wanted a structure to accomplish – and then backed out the pre-conditions for success.

Towards that end, we shared our evolving thinking with the audience at Stanford Social Innovation Review, in an article titled Building Movements, Not Organizations.  And we began moving from secondary research to primary research – from reading about people who had asked similar questions to what we were asking, to interviewing people who were actively restructuring their own work. From the nonprofit / Community Benefit world, we spoke with Jeanne Bell of CompassPoint (watch / listen to that conversation here) and from the business / social enterprise world, we spoke with Chloe Waretini from Enspiral (you can watch / listen to that conversation here).

November Meeting
That is where we started at our November meeting. Board and community members talked about the need for

• A structure that will create and hold the space for the viral spread of ideas and approaches that bring out the best in people
• A structure that will create and hold the space for activities to accomplish that mission, and the people talking action.
• A structure that will actively model our values in action, as defined by the Pollyanna Principles and put into action through the practices of Catalytic Thinking.

All that was discussed within the context of the ultimate goal that our mission be accomplished – – that people everywhere know how to naturally bring out the best in people in any situation, through the questions they ask.

December Meeting
At our meeting last month, we began describing some of the conditions that structure would need to create, if the structure itself was to actively contribute to holding the space for what’s possible. The details from that discussion can be found here.

Overall, we talked a lot about building systems that feel human, inspiring, social, connected and especially safe and supported. We talked about decision-making systems rooted in our values and vision and mission and Catalytic Thinking framework. Those decision-making systems would bring out the best in people and situations.

Under the Sea…
Through it all, though, was an analogy for which we are grateful to Jane Garthson – the analogy of the ocean, where each ocean ecosystem thrives in ways that may be quite different from other ecosystems, yet all of them not only live in the same ocean, they are supported and nurtured by that ocean.

This analogy was expanded on throughout the meeting.

– In the ocean, each creature can go its own way, but can also gather together with others.
– When things are working, each part grows and gets strong as needed.
– All parts of the ecosystem are interdependent – sometimes with each other, always with its particular ecosystem and with the ocean that surrounds it and supports it and creates the overall reality in which those parts exist.

Applying the analogy to this newly forming organizational structure, the “ecosystems” are the pillars of our mission – the work that will accomplish the mission. To date, we’ve seen those as

• Research & Development
• Education
• Demonstration / Sharing Stories
• Convening

In this analogy, each ecosystem would function on its own, and yet be connected by the through line of the ocean – Creating the Future.

Each ecosystem would self-govern according to what made sense in that ecosystem. People to whom that aspect of the work is meaningful would gather, creating a commons where decisions are made for that ecosystem by the people working in that ecosystem.

Each ecosystem would provide support for the programs that fit in that ecosystem – the functional support noted above (web support, resources of all kinds, people support, systems support).

When new people arrive, there are on-ramps to each ecosystem, where people feel welcomed, can immediately find ways to plug in, and get a sense of what is possible for them in that place.

The excitement of this analogy is that it reflects everything we’ve been talking about for the past two meetings. It is inclusive, empowering. It creates a structure that, like the real world ocean, doesn’t dictate how work will be done; it simply provides the environment for ensuring that can happen.

What That Structure Might Look Like
If Creating the Future is the ocean, what would that structure provide? What would it take to be that?

  • It would facilitate and support the thriving of all the individual ecosystems.
  • It would ensure that each ecosystem is using our vision, our values (The Pollyanna Principles) and Catalytic Thinking to make their decisions and guide their work. Each ecosystem may be very different in what they do and how they do it, but the WATER is the vision, mission, values, the framework. “These are questions we always ask, and this is the order we ask them in…”

“With Catalytic Thinking, the framework is the structure. If Creating the Future is the water, it doesn’t matter where you swim into, it’s still going to feel comfortable to you because you’ll see the values in action, you’ll understand how decisions are made. The structure may be different over here, but the questions / decision-making will feel comfortable for anyone who steps in at any point.” Rebecca Hurd

“The culture would be the same at all points. The setting would be fluid, the positions would not be fixed – it would be flexible. There is no one “at the top” to make decisions about other people; people make decisions about themselves. In an ocean, anything anyone does will ripple, affecting everyone else. This structure will therefore change as people interact.” Jane Garthson

“To build an organization that is human-shaped it needs to have human scale. There needs to be coordination across the ocean, for awareness about what each other is doing so we can continue learning from each other, while at same time building and working in smaller communities that can be highly productive because there’s trust and people know each other. The human scale means high trust local networks – an organization that is split into smaller cells that are connected to each other. There is coordination across the ocean, and coordination within smaller communities where people can know and trust each other. Part of the job of the structure, then, is to help strangers find people across ecosystems. Unless you already know someone, what will it take to find who in the network could be helpful to you?” Chloe Waretini

“Each of these structural pieces – decision-making, leadership, coordination (of activities, of communication), infrastructure for the “stuff” people need, connection and inviting – all that can be embedded into each ecosystem AND into each program within that ecosystem. It’s fractal. Those functions would be the work of the Education ecosystem in general. And then those same functions would be guiding the individual programs called “doing webinars” or “building online curriculum” or “supporting faculty” or “editing a blog column.” Each of those programs would be self-governed, just like each ecosystem is self-governed, so long as the principles and the values and the framework and the culture are the ocean. In that way, each program can work autonomously, with all the structural “stuff” it needs. And when that “stuff” is more than the program can address on its own, it is already part of that larger ecosystem that exists to support it.” Hildy Gottlieb

“At Enspiral, we’re creating an App that says “You’re new here – how about trying this? Or this?” We’ve realized the importance of defining social processes for welcoming people, so they don’t feel overwhelmed but feel welcome. We have a welcoming team – every new person coming in has a buddy, who works with the member who invited the new person to help them understand / improve the experience of the new member.” Chloe Waretini

“Part of this is about never assuming we have it figured out. We will come back to an issue again and again as things change and grow. We must have the belief that we’ll always be making it better. The system must therefore have reflection built in.” Gayle Valeriote

The Big Question: What Does That Mean for Having a Board?
Creating the Future is incorporated in the state of Arizona in the US. The legal minimum number of board members in Arizona is… ONE. While the IRS would probably like to see more than one, they are often quite ok with THREE. Which is to say that from a legal perspective, the bar is pretty low for what is required.

Our conversation since June has been consistent – the work legally required of a board is regulatory compliance. And that is not a leadership function; it is an administrative support function.

In describing how Enspiral has worked within the regulatory environment in New Zealand, Chloe Waretini affirmed our months of conversation about this issue. Enspiral describes its board as a Minimal Viable Board – the minimum to keep them financially and legally compliant. The people on the board are not the people who are leading and supporting the organization. They are simply people who are good at whatever the regulators require.

Separating boards from leadership and decision-making resonated with long-time governance consultant Jane Garthson, who noted, “Boards govern if you haven’t designed something better. This is something better!”

From there, bylaws could simply codify the fact that leadership and decision-making is distributed fractally throughout every part of the organization, so that at every point, the same values and questions are guiding the decisions. The bylaws could simply state, as Rebecca Hurd noted early in the discussion, that the Catalytic Thinking Framework is our structure. That would fit with the discussion Creating the Future’s board had about bylaws back in 2014, where Justin Pollock posed the idea of our bylaws as a “process document.”

Our bylaws could then fit on one page: “These are our values and our vision. We embed those into everything we’re doing, walking the talk of our values and the future we want to see in every decision we make. Our decisions are all made using Catalytic Thinking.”

Whatever the issue, the bylaws will then be a touchstone living document. They will guides us to the questions that will provide the correct answer in the ever-changing environments that are reality. This will allow for the “collaborative autonomy” we’ve been discussing. It will allow for making decisions on a human scale. And it will codify what it means to be actively creating values-driven culture – defining what it means to hold, nurture and sustain that culture.

“Through these sorts of systems, we don’t have to worry about accountability. As Chloe describes Enspiral [for example], they don’t have a system for accountability, because they haven’t built accountability as the outcome. The outcome is the relationships, the trust-building. When we build things for the purpose of compliance, those always seem to break, because the requirements and regulatory pieces are all reactive. ‘Because something didn’t work, we put in these stopgaps.’ What Chloe is describing is a system that’s designed to enable relationships to build and enable effectiveness to blossom. It comes back to whether we are framing structures to control or to enable. When we talk about accountability and legal requirements, we’re falling back into control thinking, not enabling thinking.” Justin Pollock

“We’ve found it’s more effective to support people vs holding them accountable. If people are supported you don’t need to hold them accountable. ‘I’ve noticed you didn’t deliver – is there something you need help with?’ You’re held accountable by your social capital with others.” Chloe Waretini

Seen through the lens of Catalytic Thinking, when we aim at and create the conditions we DO want, accountability takes care of itself.

What’s Next?
At our next meeting (Monday, January 11th 1pm ET at this post), we will begin building this fluid system that will support accomplishing our mission.

This will NOT be a board meeting; those days appear to be over. This will be a community meeting.

So, if you care about these issues – whether you care about what it will take to accomplish Creating the Future’s mission or you are passionate about building a better system for accomplishing grand results overall – join us. Watch and tweet, or if you have been following closely and want to be part of the discussion inside the video, let us know by clicking here.

The excitement is mounting, and the party is just getting started!

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