Where Do Why Be?

Elena Denaro
Greaterthan
Published in
4 min readNov 27, 2022

--

Creating the guide to Greaterthan’s practice

Greaterthan’s focus is organising structures & cultures that contribute to healthy systems for all. This work is quite tricky to describe in a few words; it is highly emergent, contextual and requires us to navigate many topics and territories. The sweet spot of our work is at the intersection of personal and organisational change (that together support system change).

We have long dreamed of encapsulating our knowledge and perspectives into one “thing” — a simple yet comprehensive model of our grounded theory — that could support:

  • our work guiding client organisations along their transformation journeys
  • contextualising and developing our practices and offerings (from Academy courses to content creation)
  • others seeking some structure in the emergent lands of self-organising systems (newcomers and long-term journeyers alike).

Previous attempts to create such a model proved to be challenging, be that from the overwhelm of trying to crystallise what felt like an ever-moving target, or from the difficulty of securing enough focus time within our busy, online work days. The artefacts we built passed hands several times over the course of a couple of years; each generation adding to a pile of un-finished Google docs, Mural boards and some proto-plates.

Gathering for an in-person squeeze

In November 2022 four of us gathered in a house just outside Paris to work intensively for three days to produce what we now call “the Compass”, from start to finish. We called this crunch gathering a Lenin Squeeze (long story), where we co-live and block out other work. The team was formed by Tomomi Sasaki (Paris), Elena Denaro (London), David Weingartner (Munich) and Manel Heredero (Barcelona). We were warmly hosted and nourishingly fed by Louis-Jean Teitelbaum, to whom we are deeply grateful.

An AI’s understanding of a Lenin Squeeze

The WhereDoWhyBe Compass

We set sails for making the foundation to our work explicit, for naming the building blocks of healthy organising and system change. Our destination was the guide to Greaterthan’s practice.

We had high expectations for this guide. We were seeking something that could:

  • Be comprehensive
  • Provide a solid ground for new work and new colleagues
  • Maintain alignment as we grow
  • Allow for expansion as we learn and develop our practice
  • Serve us as an illustration of the work we do

Using the navigational metaphor of a compass, the model points at the four questions every organisation needs coherent answers to, to sustain itself:

  • Why are we here together?
  • Where are we going?
  • Do: How do we coordinate people, resources and information?
  • Be: How do we relate and care for each other?

While all organisations will have some answer to these questions, our aim is not just sustainable organising, but sustainable organising for healthy systems. To hold this intention front-and-centre, you’ll find a “scroll” describing the north star the compass is oriented towards.

Within the compass we capture six key areas within healthy organising:

  • Purpose & Strategy
  • Community & Development
  • Decision Making & Governance
  • Roles & Workflows
  • Knowledge & Information Flows
  • Money & Value Flows

Each individual terrain is different. With this model at our service we have what we need to navigate the terrains and waters, to orient ourselves together with our partners in design, to turn a blank canvas into a map. The broader narrative device that the Compass sits within is an Atlas — a collection of maps — and we’ve produced prototypes of different directions that the map-making could take.

We also started a Guide, which is an internal Notion knowledge base for the time being. It introduces each of the six areas, and provides a list of key practices which we actively cultivate within ourselves and practise with our clients and partners.

We are really happy with the work done, and energised by the keen interest, ideas and feedback that our colleagues offered during a mid-way validation session. (Grateful that so many people joined us on short notice, on a Friday night!)

This phase concludes with a clear invitation to fellow Greaterthan members to inquire, Compass in hand, so that we may continue with our discovery journey.

Want to come along for the journey?

This is what we have to offer to you after our Squeeze. We will see in the coming weeks and months how this model holds against practice as we use it.

Are you interested in joining the conversation? Would you like to position yourself on the map of healthy organising? Get in touch!

Tomomi, Elena, David and Manel for the Greaterthan crew. Our host Louis-Jean, with beard and glasses.

--

--