Organize Your People Around the Work

PSL provided a wealth of learning experience for me. It’s difficult to pinpoint one specific thing, however what I feel was the most important at this point in my life was the re-enforcement of organizing people around the work.

Esther Derby’s session at AYE2010 gave me a basic understanding if this, PSL helped me experience it at a much deeper level.

All organizations have some type of hierarchy. I’ve yet to work in a company that organizes the people around the work. Instead they focus on departments and silos and making sure people are kept busy instead of focusing on doing valuable work. While I was at Lean 2011 this year, I spoke to a couple of people that work for a 60-ish person company and their software engineers are just that. Software engineers. They are ‘title less’ and while they do have people that have more skills in certain areas, they don’t have dedicated specialists.

They also talked about how they staff projects, people largely volunteer for them and they use a large visible board in their office for people to choose what projects they want to work on.

Is there any reason why this approach can’t work in your organization?

Given a reasonable set of constraints and a purpose, people will arrive at a solution. It may be the right solution at the right time, it may not be. In either case, people will learn and adapt with strong leadership. This has been demonstrated throughout human history and it was bluntly obvious in context of a simulation run at PSL.

An argument I hear often about focusing on the work instead of the hierarchy is that people just can’t do whatever they want. Someone needs to be responsible. That’s the point. People need to understand the purpose in what they are doing and they need constraints to work within instead of being told what to do. This is what leadership is about and people can lead from any position.

PSL showed very clearly the impacts and outcomes of forcing work through a hierarchy and also showed the complete opposite for having people self-organize around a goal and purpose. The difference is truly astonishing.

I will follow up with another post with some thoughts and techniques you can try to get started organizing the people in your organization around the work.

What are your thoughts? How do you organize work in your organization?