Into the Frying Pan…

By Susan Basterfield for Enlivening Edge Magazine

How I joined one of the world’s leading participatory business networks


Only a year ago, I thought Enspiral was simply a group of freelancers and startups working out of a funky space in Wellington, New Zealand.  I was about a year into my journey as a freelancer focused on bringing the ideas of agile and responsive and Teal to organisations. I was feeling both lonely and isolated from the smart people who were always around when I had a real job.

I was working on the Co-opathon project with Ben Roberts, and we were using Loomio. I didn’t realize at first that Loomio was an Enspiral Venture, and the discovery piqued my curiosity.  I googled around and found some of the great talks from Alanna Krause, Joshua Vial, and Rich Bartlett.  Then I had a chat with the wonderful Doug Kirkpatrick, and he told me that a little posse of Enspiral people had recently come to visit the Self-Management Institute.

All the threads started coming together, and I made the first move.  I met heaps of people, started hanging around, and by the end of Summerfest in January I had made my decision to invest in and work with these amazing humans.

See what I did there?  Quite different from a normal engagement—I chose participation.

One of the memes it took me a while to understand about Enspiral is that it’s easy to join and hard to stay.  Staying takes a mindset of total self-management, which is antithetical to the way we’ve been taught, or to how most of us experience work.  You find your own way.  Enspiral does not have jobs.  You create your own.  And find a way to make a livelihood.

I totally get that I am not the traditional persona of an Enspiralite. I’ve had a career—in humongous multinationals, start ups, and global bungy-jumping empires.  Since I was 17, I’ve always had to provide a CV and interview—and depending on the whim (or wisdom!) of the HR team or the hiring manager—I’d get offered a contract and some money to do some stuff or sell some stuff.

Not only did that not happen at Enspiral for me—(not to say it couldn’t for you if you choose to do work for an Enspiral venture)—it also took me a really long time to get my head around it—the ‘how we do things here’ piece.  We are starting to understand how hard that is, and how important it is—not only to new adventurers poking around, but to those of us hanging around in the gooey center.

Over the years, Enspiral ventures have built and developed some of the tools we use to make decisions. One tool is Loomio  (now used by tens of thousands of people).

What do you do when there is no CFO to do spreadsheets for what gets funded next year?  What do you do when you recognise the need to be responsive and realize that there is no way we can predict what we’d want or need to spend money on month to month? You build Cobudget.

How does money get in there in the first place?  How does the Enspiral Foundation run?  It has no employees, but there is the support and scaffolding of 40 members and 250 contributors to hold.  You think lean and practical and have a MVB—Minimum Viable Board to cover the legal obligations and the risk—and you share out the work of the C-Suite (haha a c-suite that does actual work!) amongst those with the energy and interest. You let them decide how to organize and be Catalysts in the true sense of the word.

Enspiral has taken the better part of a decade to both understand what it needed and what experiments to try.  We’ll never be done. It will always be changing.  And how do you care for a culture that is at once unique and emergent?  Notice. Listen. Play. Our latest ‘agreement’ invokes the opportunity of intentional Stewardship.

It’s not easy.  Sometimes it’s really hard.  We’ve heard voices and questions and ‘hands raised’ all around the world.

With a tentative gaze outward, we understand we have a responsibility to share this great experiment, with whoever wants to listen.

We’ve started a new venture called Enspiral Labs to make that intentional—the sharing of ideas and tools and experiment—to provide some source of confidence that it’s possible. Sharing feels good, and it changes lives.

We are touring Europe in September and October, and we are so looking forward to sharing our lived experience.  Grab your tickets for Berlin, Stockholm, Copenhagen, London, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Budapest here.

Hope to see you soon!

susan-bio-photo-croppedSusan Basterfield is a catalyst, cultivator, convenor and curator, helping individuals and organisations experiment with new ways of working and being. A founding partner of Enspiral Labs, she serves as a Catalyst for the Enspiral Foundation, works with distributed teams worldwide as a culture coach and digital facilitator, and convenes Teal NZ, with over 300 members.