Crafting Strategy
in a Collaborative Organisation

The art and science of inventing the future


Eight of us from Loomio got together for half a day last week in a wonderful strategy session, hosted by the incredible Vivien Maidaborn (Chair of the Board at Loomio and Chief Executive at Unicef NZ).

Our ambition for Loomio is that it can be a super effective organisation, where people relate to each other based on collaboration, rather than holding power over each other. As we co-create this collaborative organisation together, participatory governance processes like these are critically important.

These kinds of tools are really useful for any kind of organisation or community group, if you can get over the weird jargon!


Finding the Blue Ocean

The idea of a “Blue Ocean” is that it is a space with no competition: uncontested space. This is in contrast to a “Red Ocean”, which presumably refers to all the blood in the water when there is a lot of competition. That’s kind of a gross metaphor, but bear with me…

Viv guided us through a process to take a look at the environment around Loomio. We started by asking “what are the critical factors that make a tool for team collaboration successful?

We came up with some answers like:

  • ease of use (can people figure out how to use it without much effort?)
  • awareness (do people know that it exists?)
  • integration (does it work with the team’s existing tools and processes?)

We listed a bunch of tools that teams might use for collaboration, and ranked them all against each of these criteria in a really informal and opinionated conversation.

Finally, we ranked Loomio along the same criteria, and came out with a chart like this:

We can now use this chart to answer some interesting questions, like:

  • Where are we distinctive?
    Our speciality is in culture transformation, organizational memory, and of course, the ability to make decisions. How well do we tell this story?
  • What’s one area we could focus on that would improve many other factors?
    If we improve our integration with other tools and processes, we’ll simultaneously increase brand awareness, ease of spread, and stickiness.
  • Where can we learn from others?
    People know exactly what problem they’re trying to solve when they’re using a tool like appear.in: they want a painless way to set up a face-to-face conversation online. When it comes to Loomio, we could do a much better job of explaining what jobs people use it for (e.g. you can use Loomio to make your in-person meetings more efficient).

While the Blue Ocean process left me with a better sense of our distinctive value and our opportunities for growth, I found that it didn’t really tell me much about what our organisation might look like in the future.


Transformational Scenarios

The second exercise comes from Adam Kahane’s book Transformational Scenario Planning: Working Together to Change the Future (especially Chapters 5 and 6).

We started by brainstorming: in a few moments of silence, everyone wrote down some of the big uncertainties we have about the future of Loomio. After everyone had shared, we grouped these uncertainties into common themes, and rephrased them as questions in the form of a continuum: should we put more energy into _____ or _____?

  • To create the future we want to see, should we focus on delivering software or collaboration training?
  • Should we focus on a vertical (like “university students who need to collaborate online”) or a horizontal (like “groups who need to collaborate online”)?
  • Are we serving the people who already want to work collaboratively, or convincing the others?

We grouped these uncertainties and then used dot-voting to pick the two most important. We then used those two to create this chart:

In this case, the vertical axis represents the method we use to create the social impact we want to see in the world: should we focus on products (Technology) or services (People)? The horizontal axis is about funding: should we prioritise Investment (finding values-aligned individuals to support our work) or Revenue (selling products and services to people).

Each of the four quadrants on this chart represent different scenarios for the future. We moved through each of the 4 quadrants in sequence, asking, what would Loomio look like if we…

  1. … prioritise people over technology and revenue over investment (top right)?
  2. … prioritise people and investment (top left)?
  3. … prioritise technology and investment (bottom left)?
  4. … prioritise technology and revenue (bottom right)?

For each of the 4 quadrants we asked:

  • What other organisations share this model?
  • What qualities do they have?
  • Do we want to be like them?
  • How does this relate to the “Blue Ocean” analysis we did in the previous session?

Finally, we gave each quadrant a name. In our case, we named our scenarios “Collaboration Army”, “Square Peg”, “Hockey Stick” and “Left Behind”.

It will take some time to see if the scenarios we developed together will prove to be transformational for us. At very least, we have new shared language that we can use as we think together about the future: is this strategy taking us to a Left Behind scenario?


Conclusion

Each of these processes were valuable on their own, and worked well in combination.

I found that being guided through a structured process pulled me out of my habitual way of thinking, and helped me to wander attentively through the field of possibility, rather than being biased towards a particular outcome.

The other super valuable factor about this session was that it allowed me to lift my head up and look out: out beyond the immediate near-term horizon, and out of Loomio.

Strategy work seems to be primarily about asking good questions, and both of these processes certainly helped us do that.