Evolving Our Culture at Deeson – Facilitation Over Management

By Tim Deeson and originally published in the Deeson Company blog

We see our company’s purpose as being to facilitate smart people in getting great things done – not telling them exactly how to do it.

Nothing limits people’s motivation and productivity more than jumping through irrelevant hoops.

As we’ve grown we’ve realised that it has become more and more important to decentralise decision-making and share information effectively.

Over the past six months we’ve been experimenting with some big changes to enable a more empowered and self-directed approach.

working culture team

Underlying principles

We have some beliefs backing the changes:

  • our team members are intrinsically motivated and know how to get their own job done best
  • open access to information is power – use tools to make your company data useful and accessible
  • everyone must have meaningful input for a culture of continous improvement to be effective
  • we should focus on results not process
  • we do knowledge work and our approach needs to embrace this – measuring who is in the office at 9am is reassuringly tangible but mostly irrelevant to doing great work
  • principles used by people with good judgement are a lot more useful than lots of rules

Business benefits

There are strong commercial drivers:

  • our growth means we need to be able to recruit from a wider talent pool
  • we wanted to reduce the need to introduce middle management in our expanding team
  • our increasingly international client base means that better distributed working practices were part of delivering great client service
  • people told us that flexible working is an important part of our overall recruitment package

Start at the top

We realised that we needed to change the way that the agency was managed.

Simon and I worked to understand which the things we both did were leadership driven and which were management that could be shared.

Through continuing review we enabled team members to take on responsibility and control as much as possible. We were confident this would increase team engagement.

The role of the leadership team rapidly changed, and our focus became to facilitate and coach our teams, rather than to manage and direct.

Our focus has been on getting out of the way of our increasingly self-organised teams delivering digital projects.

The challenge has been as much to change our own individual people management habits as it has been to evolve the company’s processes.

Old habits die hard!

We’re by no means the only ones thinking this way

We’d seen, heard and read a lot about organisational culture, leadership and change in other companies.

book covers

Some examples of thinking that really resonated included Ricardo Semler’s Maverick and 37Signal’s Rework.

Aaron Dignan of Undercurrent also has an interesting roundup of different organisational models including Holacracy, Agile Squads and Self Organising.

We invested a lot of time in well configured and well used project and management information systems such as Xero, Harvest and Forecast, which means everyone can now see what’s going live across the agency.

Having better information helps team members make the best decisions on how to deliver their part of a project.

We’ve strengthened our specification, delivery and testing practices so that project delivery is standardised across the agency and easy to monitor.

We’ve also deployed communications tools that work seamlessly, so we don’t think about whether colleagues are on a different floor or on site in a different country. This has included adding softphones on our laptops and embracing collaboration tools such as Slack and Google Hangouts.

Results-oriented working patterns

  1. Our team members can work when and where they want – as long as they are effectively collaborating with clients and colleagues
  2. We focus and target on the output- not whether you login at 8:55 am or 9:05 am.
  3. Top-down manager-led appraisals are a thing of the past. Our team members now undertake a personal and peer review every three months to set their own development goals.
  4. Self-led development is backed with an unlimited training budget.
  5. Every team member has their own annual budget to spend on R&D, technology, tools, equipment – anything that helps them do their job better.

How did we work out and describe the detail?

We put together a draft Google Doc ‘Deeson Handbook’ that everyone could contribute to and had a dedicated Slack channel for discussion.

We spent most of January at a discussion stage. There was very little debate about the principles behind the approach but through collaboration we made some pretty big changes on the details, for example:

  • contactability – making it clear that the principle was that you were easily contactable rather than exactly how
  • holidays and leave – simplifying the holiday policy to just work in days and half days

The handbook is perpetually in beta as we’re always reviewing our approach. It is the single document that explains our new approach, acts as a reference for new joiners and a guide to how things work in practice at Deeson.

How has it gone?

Three months in and we’re really pleased with the results of the changes so far.

We were expecting at least one major problem and we haven’t had it (yet!)

Team engagement and satisfaction has improved and we’re seeing increased ownership and autonomy among project teams.

Most importantly we’re confident that this is leading to better digital products and services for our clients – which is something we’re very proud of.

If you’re interested in the details then feel free to ask questions or request a copy of our Handbook document.

Republished with permission of the author.

Featured Image/graphic link added by Enlivening Edge Magazine