Guilds and Tribes

This Blog was first published in March 2014 as part of an irregular series for the staff at Objectivity


These are tough questions and I’ve been asked them or close versions on many occasions over the last few years. Of course my answers vary a bit but in general I’ve always agreed that it will be hard. I’ve focussed on the importance of our values and remaining true to them. I’ve tried to explain that everyone has a part to play in building and keeping a great place to work. We have great people and this is important so we’ll figure it out.

“We left our previous companies to come here because it’s small and friendly. We’re getting bigger. How can you stop us becoming a corporation?” “Of course it’s good that clients want to do business with us but sometimes it feels like we’re growing too quickly. How will we manage?”

Thread 1

At the Christmas Conference, I enjoyed all of the presentations but one of them stayed with me and troubled me. The subject was Antifragility by Kuba P.

He contrasted those things that are diminished by stress (the fragile) and those that become stronger when subjected to stress (the antifragile).

He talked about the inherent instability in things that are big (atoms to countries) compared to things that are small. His presentation was based on a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb: “Antifragile – Things That Gain from Disorder” and I bought and read it (well 150 pages of it anyway :) ) over the Christmas holidays.

I remained troubled.

Our organisational model has been too fragile. We add more people to the heads teams and need to create more layers of hierarchy.

I was drawn to the contrasting models of nation states and city states. How devolving power to the smaller entity reduces risk, creates some diversity of approach and increases the antifragility of the whole country.

I wondered if it would be possible to create an organisation made up of smaller pieces that could still have the Objectivity “dna and glue” that we all appreciate.

Thread 2

Two years ago, Sush told me that although we’re different to “normal” companies in many ways, we were organised too traditionally and at some point it would hurt us. Over the years, I’ve met many times over dinner at La Scala with Piotr Sz and his growing team to discuss how we can move the business on. The importance of keeping the “feel” of our business is a recurring theme with our management group as well.

In fact at Karpacz in the winter of 2012/13 Piotr Hepner talked to us about the structure at Spotify. Somehow, the timing wasn’t right for that idea to take root but Mr Hepner didn’t forget and he came back to it a number of times. Piotr Szatkowski fanned the flames.

Thread 3

In the spring of 2014, we find ourselves quite in demand. A number of Murads leads come to fruition and the good work we do is recognised by a growing number of clients.

Once again, my mind turns to the pain of growth and the danger of losing what we have.

Sush persuaded me to meet a guy called Dan North. A few of us had seen him at the Agile Business Conference and he made a great impression. He was the first technical hire at Thoughtworks London office and then stayed there for nearly ten years as they grew and grew.

It was a good meeting and we agreed that Dan should come to see us in Poland for a week. Our first idea was to create some sort of written document that would help people understand what being an Objectivity team member should mean.  The first casualty of war is the plan and once Dan arrived we started to consider better ways of solving our problem of growth.

The threads come together…

  1. We had a problem of growth that didn’t look like it was going away.
  2. The idea that we could arrange ourselves differently was growing within Piotr Sz and his team.
  3. Dan had done some work with Spotify and was able to vividly describe their operation.

After 2 days of interviewing groups and individuals in our business, Dan had a pretty good understanding of the context and we circled around the tentative idea of organising ourselves along the lines being tried by Spotify.

Over dinner and in small groups, we pushed and poked at it. Testing to see how it might look for us.

On day 4, we ran a workshop with all the heads, Kasia, Tomasz, Dan and Kasia K. It was definitely a bit chaotic but gradually a realistic and exciting future started to crystallise before our eyes.

On day 5, more testing, more grinding out the details, more elaboration and it looks like we could really do it.

But enough of the pre-amble! I feel it’s time to explain some more of the detail, not just how we got there.

We need to think of our company in different terms and then all behave a bit differently to make sure we can scale more effectively.

To mark the changes, we’ll adopt some new names and vocabulary. The language is drawn from the worlds of mythology, gaming and fantasy literature!

We can expect to be hearing a lot more about Tribes, Clans, Guilds, Chapters, Colleges, Chiefs and Guild Masters.

Don’t think “promotion”, think  “Level Up”!

The departments (Projects, Development etc.), or Guilds as they’ll now be known will change in some important ways. No more Heads. Guildmasters will be responsible for providing capability and capacity for the rest of our business. They’ll own the definition of the roles we need, the recruitment to build capacity and the development programmes that will help to increase our capability.

We’re going to formalise the existing structure around clients and we’ll call those tribes. One tribe for Osys, one tribe for Primark etc.

Each tribe will have a chief! Kasia is the Chief of Primark, Tomasz Filak is the Chief of IFDL.

The tribes will have Clans and each clan is like a family group within the tribe tied together with a common goal (eg. ER in Primark).

The interception of Guilds and Tribes is a Chapter so we’ll get groups like the “Primark Developer Chapter”.

There’s lots more detail and at the time of writing, many people are grinding that out. For the moment, I’m confident enough that the idea has enough momentum and energy to carry it through. I suspect that we won’t all change at once and that some bits of the transition will hurt a bit.

There are three things that I’m pretty certain of:

  • Using our old model, the scalability was limited and already creaking at the joints.
  • Adding new tribes as we win new clients is inherently a better way of handling the inevitable pains of growth.
  • The idea of arranging ourselves in this way is exciting and different. I love it!

Good luck everyone, it’s a brave new world!