One Day in Tronno (Toronto)

Those of you who know me or follow my journey understand the fact that I live on a small island in the South Pacific doesn’t preclude me from building virtual relationships that eventually turn into a heartful real-life embrace. Over the past year, I’ve met (and hugged) collaborators and co-conspirators in India, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, The Netherlands, UK, Belgium, France, Bulgaria, the US and Australia.

This week, I’m in Canada — Toronto and Montreal. I spent a delightful weekend with one of my Reinventing Startups co-authors, Brent Lowe, and his family. Today, we had the opportunity to meet with three very different organisations in Toronto who are on their own journey to Self-Management, Teal, and Agile beyond tech.

I’ve been following the Fitzii story for a few years, and was so delighted when their co-founder, Edwin Jansen, agreed to co-host our SXSW session ‘Growing a Company without Bosses’. Although Edwin had the nerve to be on holiday this week, we were hosted by the wonderful Luz (Looth) Iglesias. Fitzii is remarkable not only for their journey, but how they share and document it. Luz was so incredibly generous and prepared to discuss everything — from roles to retreats to self-set salaries to on boarding to one of their latest innovations called ‘share the love’.

The Fitzii ‘role advice process’ was especially useful — a specific instantiation of the advice process that is triggered either by an individual seeking advice for a proposed change, or as the result of a team mate’s feedback. The process is well documented and clear — and action oriented, incorporating self-reflection, advice, decision, presentation of results.

We’ll be sharing more of the Fitzii processes in beta 2.0 of Reinventing Startups, including their on boarding process, the role of sponsor, and their compensation advice process.

As part of a larger, traditional organisation, Fitzii’s practices and way of being bumps up against the institution, but they have found a way to co-exist and thrive.

Lunch was with The Moment, an Innovation and Design consulting agency. I first met Mark and Erika about a year ago, via the slack group. Mark was seeking input in advance of a team retreat where the journey was about to begin. It’s been such a privilege to follow their Teal for Real story, read their updates and finally meet the team.

Of course, there is never enough time to dive into everything that’s possible with a group of like-minded humans, but we did our best. We all checked in with what was on top, and shared a bit of our respective stories. I shared a cursory overview of Enspiral, which diverted and tangent-ed and emerged as a very profound question:

if we can start to notice how we are developing, can we also start to notice how we are evolving? and if so, can we accelerate the process?

Obviously we didn’t have an answer to that, but I certainly checked out wanting more: more time to surface and explore with people I don’t work with regularly, but are asking the questions that keep me up at night. I hope that they appreciated my noticing of them as a group — that they are too smart and too nice, and that an edge for them might be purposefully developing a healthy practice of dissent!

We rounded off the afternoon with a visit to B-Corp and fast growing full-service web app provisioner myplanet. The challenge:

when we were 40 people it was easy to be agile beyond the boundary of software development, but with 70+, it’s not so easy.

I think a lot about tools and practices that help startups organise without hierarchy. I also think a lot about transitioning organisations, and how to help individuals practice. The case of scale is really interesting. It’s just like anything else, when you are in something that feels good, that’s going well, we rarely take the time to reflect and notice the conditions, e.g. why is this so great? Moreover, what can we do to either codify or start to create the scaffolds, and even practice with them now so we can be prepared for when we need them.

I stand by my hypothesis that companies already practicing agile methodologies understand much of what is possible with self-organising teams working collectively to a purpose where the team holds each other to account daily and transparently. We learn through practice and continuous iteration the optimal size of team, what roles and skills are required, how to get the best from our coach and our scrum master, how the product owner and the customer interface. The same is true in the organisation. But somehow, it’s harder.

Toronto has got a larger population (~6.5m) than the whole of Aotearoa New Zealand (~4.5m) and it was so invigorating to have the opportunity to have open, authentic conversations with three really different companies who are all trying to change the way they are with and at work. They are the future of work, and will help build the confidence for more organisations worldwide to start their own experiments, prototypes, and journeys.