“Look closely at the present you are constructing: it should look like the future you are dreaming.” –Alice Walker.
In 2020, Integrated Work began to explore what it would mean to move into a self-management structure from a more traditioanlly-structured one. We began by implementing Holacracy as a starting point, and then intentionally evolved to a human-first model. In Zen Buddhism a KOAN is a mantra that reveals the inadequacy of logic for reaching enlightenment by reinforcing the need to live in paradox and bridge the tensions between where we are and where we hope to go. In this spirit, we call our model a KOAN and work daily to live and lead as a kind, open, adaptive, network. Navigating this shift from a more traditional hierarchy to self-management required a lot of courage, candid conversations, flexibility, and time from each team member. In May 2021, we officially adopted our KOAN constitution describing how we work together and what we value. At our September 2021 staff retreat (affectionately called KOAN Kamp), our first in-person time together since that adoption, (don’t worry, we are all vaccinated and masked indoors), we lived into our KOAN principles in how we behaved together and in the way we designed the time we shared.
As we reflect on this retreat, and how we collectively worked to implement KOAN, a few insights worth noting come to mind. We’ve framed these insights in terms of being Kind, Open, Adaptive, and a Network, and added a few bonus insights about how our retreat design supported living into our new structure.
How were we Kind?
- Focused on connection versus decision making
- Structured our days to have lots of breaks and ‘free’ time to be alone, in pairs or small groups to connect.
- Invited in the joy of human connection by encouraging the team to focus on being present with each other.
How were we Open?
A foundational part of moving to self-management is being open and transparent. This is critical to self-management, as the team must have the right information to be able to live up to the purpose of their roles. We:
- Were transparent about decisions made leading up to the retreat – like skipping a party bus and using the saved funds to make a charitable donation instead.
- Had deep conversations about where we are as individuals, where our organization is, and where we’d like to be.
- Set the stage for shifting budget and decision-making authority more broadly across the organization.
How were we Adaptive?
While adapting to the current environment has always been important, the pandemic and a heightened focus on racial inequities helped us to more clearly see where we want to go and who we need to be to get there. We:
- Evaluated and refined our organizational strategy to see what is working and what needs to improve.
- Specifically called out our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) work internally (how we run our business) and externally (how we work with our clients) in our strategy.
- Developed the details of what our strategic goals will look like for the next three years, and made adjustments to account for the ways we have grown as the world has also changed.
How were we a Network?
As we’ve grown, we wanted to ensure that our connection to each other and our ideals continue to flourish. One mechanism we currently use is weekly “home circle” meetings. These are kind of like homeroom, only more fun! (We also swap out home circle members every now and again.) We also honored our past and current connections. We:
- Met in our home circles to gracefully close-out and celebrate our last circle. Then our new home circle members gathered to work together on what we’d like to do in the future.
- Celebrated our larger network, with the ‘extended family’ including our founder and local extended network members, who joined us for dinner.
- Grew our network by volunteering at Community Food Share and considered new partnerships.
How did this retreat support our progress toward our new organizational structure?
The shift to being a KOAN organization is a multi-faceted, ever evolving journey. This fun and nurturing time deepened our relationships in foundational ways that will support us to create the future we’re dreaming together.
For more about KOAN and organizational structure, download Jennifer Simpson’s book chapter from Mission Matters.