Getting Started with Radical Collaboration

In his recent book, Matt K. Parker profiled a number of radically collaborative organizations with stellar economic results.

But although the book details the radically collaborative patterns and practices behind their success, as well as a number of transformation stories, many readers are still left with the question: where can I begin? How can I kickstart a radically collaborative transformation inside my organization?

In this talk, Matt K. Parker will outline a number of successful transformation strategies, as well as several concrete steps individuals, teams, and leaders can take to kickstart their radically collaborative transformation.


Matt K. Parker

Author, Technology Consultant, and Organizational Architect, A Radical Enterprise





Hi, this is Matt k Parker. I'm the author of a Radical Enterprise Pioneering the Future of High Performing Organizations, uh, which came out from IT Revolution back in February. And I've had a lot of great feedback since the book came out. And I've also had a pretty consistent question, which is, this all looks awesome. I'd love for my organization to look like one of these organizations profiled in this book, but how do I get started? How do we get started turning our organization into a radically collaborative organization? So that's what I'm gonna talk about now, but I'm not gonna make any assumptions that you've read the book. Um, it's okay if you haven't. I'm just gonna very briefly sort of outline what you could find in the book, which I think will set the stage for the answers I'm about to provide. Okay, let me, let's get started.


So just real quick, so the really, the punchline of the book is that the fastest growing and most competitive organizations in the world have no bureaucracies, no bosses, and no bullshit. And I use that term in a technical sense here. I think everyone who's been part of a very large company before has experienced some level of what could only be called corporate bullshit. And so the companies of the future seem to lack that. Okay? So, um, these radically collaborative organizations have recently doubled in number. They currently comprise around 8% of the companies around the world. Um, they include companies like Hire, which is, uh, a massive appliance manufacturer and smart home appliance manufacturer based out of China. Uh, they include the number one tomato processor in the world, Morningstar, which is based in California. Um, WL Gore is one of the longest running and most successful sort of experiments in radical collaboration on the planet.


Started in 1958 in Delaware by a few chemists. They've created all kinds of stuff that we know and love today, like Gore-Tex, waterproof, fabric glide, dental floss, elixir, guitar strings, um, and they're radically collaborative organizations without bosses, without bureaucracies, without bullshit. Um, another great organization is called zo. They were started in, in the Netherlands about 15 years ago. They focus on home healthcare, uh, and really humanizing what it means to help the elderly in their homes. Uh, and they started in the, in the Netherlands, where they've quickly come to dominate the home healthcare industry, but now they're spread around 25, uh, countries around the world. So, anyways, and I could go on, there's many other examples, including purely technology organizations. But this should give you a sense for some of the companies out there in the world doing this kind of thing, and that some of them are really big.


Okay? The important thing to know is that these organizations, um, are out competing other organizations on all kinds of different financial metrics, like increase in market share and business results and customer satisfaction, systemic innovation, um, employee loyalty, uh, business model, sustainability, willingness to recommend, et cetera, et cetera. Um, and these, uh, companies I describe as radically collaborative. That's one of the many terms you can find for the out in the literature. Um, uh, other terms include things like self-managing. So, uh, but I just want you to know why I chose that term is because I think it speaks to the experience of what it's like to work in one of these companies, right? Radical collaboration is, is grounded in intrinsic motivation, right? So you have a lot of people in these companies doing what they actually enjoy doing and focusing on that day in, day out, and also making freely making commitments to their peers, right?


So there's a total lack of coercion inside these environments, um, which is pretty, I think, uh, astonishing when you experience it. And, um, and it feels fundamentally different, hence the term radical, which means root or ground. Okay? So there are four imperatives that seem to underlie the success of these radically collaborative organizations that I talk about in the book. They are team autonomy, managerial devolution deficiency, need gratification and candid vulnerability. So real quickly what those are, team autonomy is what it sounds like. And there's many different dimensions of autonomy. You can see teams, uh, exhibit within these companies. Everything from how they work, so autonomy of practice to what they're working on and what role they're playing, autonomy of allocation and autonomy of role to when they're doing it and where they're doing it. So autonomy of schedule. Um, there's also a marked process of managerial devolution.


So these companies aren't devoid of management, even though they may be devoid of any sort of classical manager role within the company, right? So they're saying management is actually a shared responsibility and by devolving into, into the organization at large, by decentralizing it, by distributing it by, we actually can empower the organization to sense and respond much more quickly than our competitors can. Um, which is how a company like hire, for instance, has come to dominate their industry. Um, so they have all kinds of approaches to managerial devolution within these companies. Self-organized leadership teams, something called the advice process, holocratic governance. I'm not gonna go through the ins and outs of them right now, but, um, you can read all about them in the book. There's also compensation as another aspect of management that they've said is a shared responsibility that they've also devolved into the company, which is really, I think, taking, uh, aim at all the coercive aspects of the traditional organization and saying, we're gonna eliminate it.


So these new sort of compensation models include things like the fractal compensation model, the dimming pay system named after the forefather of lien manufacturing, w Edwards, dimming, self-managed pay, which is what it sounds like, people deciding what they make and deciding that and changing it whenever they want to, but doing it transparent, apparently. Okay. So lastly, or, or sorry, imperative number three is deficiency. Need gratification. So I think all these companies have embraced the idea that's what, what is good for people is good for business. That if we're, they create environments that, um, give people all the security, autonomy, fairness, esteem, trust, and belongingness that they need to feel good as a human being, then they'll actually have great results as an organization. A lot of psychologists in the mid 20th century, sort of like Maslow and Carl Rogers and many others sort of hypothesized that this would be true, but it's only in the last 20 years that we've got a lot of hard empirical data that says it's absolutely true.


And so they do that in all kinds of ways. And there's different stories I show in the book and different practices, things like peer pods, which are self-managed groups of peers providing adult coaching and mentoring. There's a practice of check-ins. So stating whatever is keeping you from being fully present when you're in a situation, in a collaboration with others. There's balance scores, which is sort of saying how balanced you feel in the moment, um, being able to calibrate with the person that you're working with, uh, day over day to understand how present or not present they are, how balanced they feel, how stressed they feel, et cetera. Um, anyways, all kinds of little things that they do, and even some bigger things too that you can read about in the book to make people feel seen and heard and valued and respected. And also feel okay that it's okay to be human.


Okay? Imperative number four. The other thing that's really amazing inside these companies is the degree to which people are open and candid and at the same time vulnerable. What do I mean by that? Well, they don't just say what they think should happen or what they think is right or what they think is wrong, right? They also make themselves vulnerable by saying why they think it, right? What are the hidden chain of inferences, observations, beliefs, et cetera, that lead them to that, um, lead them to advocate what for whatever it is they're advocating for? This often is really the what, what sort of lays out the foundation of collaboration within these companies because they can sort of step back from the surface level disagreements that people may be having and see what's underneath the surface. And all the time they're discovering that there's this fundamental sort of shared concerns people have, even if they began by exhibiting very different opinions, right?


And once they sort of peel back the layers and discover this underlying kernel of shared concerns, interest, needs, wants, um, et cetera, they often discover that collaboration becomes really easy at that point because then they can work together to come up with a solution that that really is going to, um, I think maximize results for everyone. So yeah, that's four imperatives that seem to underlie, uh, the success of all these different companies that I talk about in the book. Okay? So the question I always get is like, that's great. I love reading all these stories and about all these practices, but how do I get started, right? Like, I'm not in a radically collaborative company right now. I'd like to see if it could become one. Where do I begin? So I'm gonna talk about four, um, four ideas that you can have for getting started with radical collaboration.


And the first one is actually a story that you can read about in the book, and it's about a management study group. Okay? So one of the companies I profile in the book, Tim Group, they sort of began their radically collaborative transformation, not by saying, we will transform and this is what it's gonna look like in the future, et cetera. They just said, Hey, why don't we get together and see what else is out there, right? Who else is kind of pioneering the future of work and how are they doing it? Um, and they called it a management study group. It had a very sort of benign sounding title, and they were very careful to say like, this isn't manager only, right? Management is something much more than just managers, right? Management is about how we govern the organization together, right? So we all have a vested interest in learning about this.


So anybody who wants to be involved in this study group can be involved in it. And it had really wide participation, and they read all kinds of fun case studies and white papers from places like Harvard Business Review, et cetera, about these kind of new and interesting companies having very new and interesting approaches to organizational design, to governance, to, uh, development, software development, et cetera. Um, and that led to a sort of three-step process. They would read things, and then they would, they would get together and reflect on them and talk about them, and then they started to have an experimental mindset, right? Like, well, what's something we could try, right? And they started with something really simple. They said, all right, what if we devolved, um, the power to decide on when you take a vacation? And if you can take that vacation to individuals themselves, like they're all adults, they're all on teams.


If they care about each other, they probably won't let their teams fail. And it turns out they, they, they were able to evolve that without really any sort of hiccups or anything. And that gave them, um, sort of the confidence to try something else and to take it farther and farther. And they eventually went through a whole radically collaborative transformation that you can read about in the book. But it all started with, and really was continued and spurred on by a management study group. So I know it sounds little, and I know it sounds small, but sometimes very small things can have very big results, okay? So, um, collaborative meetings. So even if you're in a very non-collaborative organization that feels very top down or draconian or bureaucratic, right, or whatever, right? There are probably all kinds of opportunities for you and other people that you're meeting with to have what I call a collaborative meeting as opposed to an adjudicated meeting.


So instead of walking into it with somebody saying, we should do this, and somebody else saying, no, you're wrong, we should do that. And then the debating, and I don't know, somebody eventually winning by being the loudest person in the room, right? Creating a, an atmosphere in which collaboration becomes possible where everyone's ideas, right, can come out and be heard and be analyzed and be thought about in which people can actually begin to think together and come up with new ideas that were only possible by actually stepping back from, you know, whatever people walked into the room with, and coming up with new insights based on shared perspectives. So, um, there's actually an article that I wrote that I have a link up here to, uh, how to run a radically collaborative meeting in three easy steps, but really a lot of radically collaborative meetings do follow these three sort of big steps.


They start with generation, which really starts with each person thinking alone and then editing alone too, right? So coming up with a bunch of ideas or a bunch of things they wanna bring out in front of the group, and then whittling that down because you only have a certain amount of time. Dimensionality is when you start to think together as a group. So you start working at the wall, you start doing silent reads, then you start working together to do affinity grouping. Lastly, getting into prioritization. So being able to do things, stack ranking, two by two analysis, et cetera, right? None of these things are necessarily revolutionary, right? But the experience of doing them with others can feel revolutionary, especially if you've been in an environment which has never felt collaborative. Just going through one of these things with a good facilitator, um, uh, can be sort of life changing.


And I, I've experienced it that way myself. When I first became, um, aware of these sort of ways of working, um, it was sort of a breath of fresh air. So anyways, I recommend checking this out too, right? This is a really interesting way to start, and it can be auto catalytic, right? People, people will feel excited by it and they'll just wanna do it again and again, and it'll spread sort of virally on its own. Okay? So role clarity. Alright? So another sort of important step on the path to radical collaboration is actually just figuring out what is our jobs <laugh>, right? Okay. We're all playing different roles, but what you often discover in a large enterprise is that there no one has any real clarity about what their job is like, what it means for that role to succeed, and what it, what can they make decisions about and what should that role be held accountable for?


Um, these aren't things that are widely known in most companies, believe it or not. So if you go around and ask somebody, you know, like in your role, you are successful when what becomes true, you'll discover that people don't have an answer. They don't know, right? But actually get into the bottom of that understanding what is the goal behind a specific role? What is that role accountable for? Which really should be its goal? And what is the role's domain of authority, right? What does that role have autonomous decision decision making rights about, right? What can they, what can somebody who's playing that role make a decision about which no one else gets to contradict or override or second guess or whatever, right? These are really critical things to begin to understand for collaborators, right? Because when you, when you begin to make these things clear, you can also very be very clearly begin to understand why tensions exist within an organization.


Because you'll discover two people believe they can make decisions about the exact same thing, and they believe that no one else should have the ability to override them. They believe it's their domain of authority, and yet they're constantly at loggerheads with each other because, right? They didn't realize that they both thought they should be able to make these kinds of decisions, and they didn't realize that, you know, this tension existed. And so once you begin to sort this out, you can discover all these opportunities for clarifying de-duping roles, right? Making them not in conflict, um, but complimentary instead of, you know, um, overlapping in a bad way. So anyways, I think this is a really important step and it actually enables the last, um, sort of thing I'll talk about, which is creating liberating constraints within a company. And so I'll speak now about, let's say a medium to large size software development organization.


All right? So it is important for a group of product managers, designers, and engineers to know what it is they're trying to achieve and to have a domain of authority around how they're going to achieve it, right? And so that's sort of the kernel of liberating constraint that we can create within a decent sized organization to say, we have teams that are oriented around outcomes, right? Let's try to, for instance, uh, increase shopping cart conversion by 5%, right? Could be an outcome that a team is chasing. And so now you've put together PMs designs and engineers to say, figure out how to make that happen, right? And so they get to own, right? The backlog for how they get there, they get to own the design for how, um, for how it looks and how users experience it. They get to own the code for how it works underneath the hood, right?


That is their domains of authority. Now, in a, in a decent size organization, you'll discover there's an infinite number of outcomes that could be sort of chased at any given time. So how do you decide which ones are the most important to do it? There's all kinds of ways you can do that, but one way is to say that we have portfolio managers, right? These are people who are responsible for owning a backlog of outcomes, right? So increasing shopping cart conversion by 5%, but also maybe reducing manual product attribution toil by 50%, or increasing product recommendation usage by 10%, whatever, right? You might have a number of different portfolio managers in an organization that are sort of owning a, a backlog of very high level outcomes, each of which are mapped to an outcome team, right? And so that, that's one way that you can begin to create liberating constraints and manage them at scale, right?


And there's very clear, um, complimentary but not overlapping domains of authority here, right? Like, teams are chasing outcomes, but the outcome isn't up to them, right? It's up to portfolio managers. Portfolio managers are prioritizing the most important outcomes to achieve, but how those are achieved isn't up to them. It's up to the teams who do the actual work on a day-to-day basis and are best poised to figure out how to get there on a day-to-day basis. Alright? You can, you can take this process farther and look farther and farther up into an organization or really out into the organization as you begin to think about it. Not necessarily hierarchically, but right concentrically, right? How are we creating spheres of support within the organization? Um, and so a CTO might be doing things like setting annual objectives and goals. Objectives could be things like, we're gonna increase revenue this year, we're gonna decrease toil this year, right?


Very high level sort of things that, that are important to achieve this year as a company and as a technology organization. And which then influence how portfolio managers, for instance, are thinking about what they're prioritizing at a portfolio level. Okay? So I think, um, that, that's, that's it for now. I'll leave it there. These are some things to think about as you get started with radical collaboration. I just want to say that, you know, if you, if you look out there, you'll find kinds of, all kinds of frameworks and blueprints for, um, how to create a non-hierarchical organization or radical collaborative organization. But I don't think there's any silver bullet. And all the companies that I found and that I profile in my book seem to be successful because they knew there was no substitute for critical thinking, right? There was no substitute for actually themselves working things out, right? Resolving tensions themselves, coming up with radical collaborative ways of working together and using, you know, prior knowledge and preexisting art to get there, but not assuming that they could just take it wholesale and unthinkingly apply it. I think a lot of thought has to go into this. So hopefully some of that was useful for you. Feel free to, um, reach out to me, check out the book if you haven't already, and let me know what you think. And thanks for your time today.