In human-centred, decentralised organisations, autonomy is encouraged to empower people to do their best work. However when people are able to choose the way they work, making sure information flows well across the organisation can be a challenge!
I’m a systems and processes nerd and have been experimenting with the #futureofwork as part of the Enspiral network for the last ten years. I’ve seen some of the best and worst approaches to making the information flow, here’s a few common themes and what to do about them.
Three problems that arise from new ways of working:
1. Data is inconsistent
When people choose their own ways of working, it can get challenging to understand the information each person is producing. Does the amount of that project include tax? Is that date when the milestone was due? Or when it was invoiced? Or something else? Is that money going straight to the bottom line or do we need to put it aside? Where’s the contract…?!
Balancing the books has got a whole lot harder as there’s a plethora of information that needs to be curated by “someone”. And the organisation still needs to interact with the outside world. The accountant needs to pay tax, the board needs to make decisions, the client needs an invoice that makes sense.
2. Administration is a burden
Now we’ve got all that inconsistent information, “someone” needs to make sure it makes sense. You might be loving your work now but there’s another person pulling their hair out. There’s monthly financials, reports to the board, whole org update, endless questions posted to Slack where someone needs to know some bit of information to do their job but doesn’t know who to ask or where to find it.
If that “someone” is one person, they’re going to be in high demand and very stressed! If it’s multiple people, that’s a lot of co-ordination and communication happening. They’ve either got a monster of a spreadsheet, or many spreadsheets trying to balance the sales information, with whats in the financial tool, with what’s in 3 other systems and constantly chasing people via Slack to update tab 27 (but don’t break the formulas!!)…
3. Information is not transparent
A crucial part of human centred organisations is being empowered to make decisions without needing someone else’s permission. But to do this, you need to be able to see all the relevant information, which is why transparency is so important.
But how can you be empowered to do your best work when you’re working in the dark…? And how do you create transparency when you’ve accidentally created a rabbit warren of information? Can anyone see anything when there’s no single place to look to make sense of it all? And if no one is doing anything consistently and “someone” isn’t keeping all the information perfectly curated, it’s going to be really hard to know how the organisation is going.
You can see from just three examples, what started off as a world of excitement and new empowering opportunity has become a quagmire of incomplete, inconsistent or totally nonexistent information. Fortunately, it’s not a lost cause!
Here’s four steps you can take to make information flow better:
1. Form a working group
Make sure they’re a diverse group from across the organisation who understands the benefits of organising well. Give them responsibility for simplifying the amount of workflow options there are in your key processes. That doesn’t mean one way to rule them all but could there be 3 or 5 instead of n ways? (where n is the number of people in the team/organisation!).
They’ll need some regular extra time allocated to this, as your colleagues will need some coaching, encouraging and information sharing to work out the best workflow options which work for the majority of people and scenario’s (and don’t even start to imagine you can find a silver bullet digital tool to solve this pain point without first spending a year making small but regular progress here — another post needed there!).
2. Set some standard naming conventions
The next job for that working group. Implement these conventions across the organisation’s storage and communication tools. It’s going to be much easier to find that proposal / contract / misc document if you know what to look for and where.
3. Setup a wiki or information home base
A one stop shop for finding key info in your organisation. The working group can help curate this site so it doesn’t get too out of control. Instead of always asking that same one person, now anyone can add that FAQ to the wiki.
It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, if you’re on Google Workspace you have access to Google Sites for free. We used Google Sites for a while and it was great to start with, now we’re on a cheap version of Notion which is proving to be far more powerful but with the potential to cost more too (there’s plenty more options out there, the one you choose is less important than making A choice and just getting started, because, migrating from something to something else, is a lot easier than from nothing to something!).
4. Regular updates
Make sure there’s a regular rhythm for this group to update the organisation on their progress. This will be the key opportunity to communicate how the changes are going to help everyone and a chance to keep reminding people of all the amazing information available in ONE place! The best change happens when you take everyone with you.
What about your organisation? What tips and tricks have you implemented to make your information flow freely?