A Responsive Conference? Now That’s Interesting.

Deb Seidman
Dec 8, 2017 · 5 min read

A colleague from the UK posted an announcement to a group Facebook page for a that would be taking place in New York and I was intrigued. Never heard of this. What’s it all about? This is the second conference? It appeared to be about experiences with new organization designs.

The conference took place in September in New York City, a short subway trip away from me. While I wouldn’t have any travel expenses, I hadn’t budgeted for the conference expense, so I decided to run a Kick Starter campaign to fund my attendance. My donors’ gift would be a detailed report of insights and practices gleaned from the conference. My campaign was a success and, I’m happy to report, so was the conference. This is the first of (4) blog posts sharing insights and ideas from the conference.

Conference Overview

Thetook place in Queens, New York on September 18–19, 2017. Conference participants included entrepreneurs and professionals in a range of fields including Design, Marketing and PR, Organizational Development and Change, Learning and Talent Development, Diversity and Inclusion, Information Technology, Academia and Innovation. They represented a broad range of industries and organizations. Some worked inside organizations and others were consultants working with multiple organizations. They came from across the US and around the world. All are students, pioneers, experimenters in new forms of organizational practices responsive to the future of work.

Over the course of the conference, participants explored the experiences of organizations trying to implement responsive practices and brainstormed potential tactics for shifting organizational practices, behaviors, and culture. Responsive organizations are a work in progress. Organizations need to be willing to experiment, fail, learn, and adapt. By definition, responsive practices are emergent and evolving.

The makes the case for responsive organizations and outlines their attributes. According to the manifesto:

“Responsive Organizations are built to learn and respond rapidly through the open flow of information; encouraging experimentation and learning on rapid cycles; and organizing as a network of employees, customers, and partners motivated by shared purpose.”

These organizations are designed to operate effectively in fast-changing, unpredictable environments and must balance tensions between profit and purpose, hierarchies and networks, controlling and empowering, planning and experimentation, and privacy and transparency. The Responsive Conference explored these tensions and invited participants to crowd-source tactics for balancing the tensions in organizations.

Keynotes from consultants, educators and authors presented the main concepts of responsive organizations and touched on important aspects — such as understanding the ecosystems of the organization and the broader environment, implementing team-of-teams practices, and identifying the broader networks to leverage to develop and deliver solutions. An interview with Anil Dash, a tech industry CEO, exposed the ethical issues that arise from new technologies and what we can do to assess the underlying values present in the technologies we use.

PepsiCo, charity: water, and AirBNB presented their journeys and experiences with implementing responsive organization practices and they crowd-sourced ideas from conference participants for ways to amplify and extend these practices.

PepsiCo Panel

Break-out sessions included a workshop using Operating System Canvas to diagnose organizational tensions, identify tactics to address the tensions, and the readiness of the organization to implement those tactics. Unconference sessions included a discussion of Emerging Leadership.

The Rise of the Responsive Organization

Aaron Dignan, from The Ready, set the stage for understanding responsive organizations. There are many “movements” in existence today that can be considered within the realm of responsive organizations, including Teal, Open, Participatory, Emergent, Beyond Budgeting, and Beta.

Aaron Dignan

What it is not: Gantt chart overload, inbox overload, calendar overload, low engagement. These are outcomes of scientific management.

What it is:

  • Adaptive: Companies need to be able to learn and dance with uncertainty
  • Human: Meaningful, purposeful, connect to our difference and drive inclusion. Where you can show up “whole”.
  • Sustainable: In tune with their environment; not creating growth at the expense of another system

He challenged participants to consider three, related operating systems:

  • Organizational operating system — Rules and norms within organizations
  • Economic operating system — within which companies need to grow; where there is a free marketplace and within which there are values about humanity, adaptability, sustainability, etc.
  • Cultural operating system — values and norms of culture at large that determine what is acceptable

Dignan asserts that working within the organizational operating system context can provide a lever — by creating or influencing change that, in turn, influences the economic and cultural operating systems.

The global growth of (e.g., Patagonia, Warby Parker) and of small businesses provide the testing ground for new forms of organization. The best stories come from privately or family-owned businesses that are not beholden to the larger economic and cultural ecosystems in the same way as publicly-traded companies.

Principles that The Ready is seeing emerge from its change work inside organizations include:

1. Through them not to them — teams taking ownership of their way of working (participatory)

2. Experiencing is believing — Debating new forms of organization is exhausting. Find a “safe to try” way to do it. Try, discuss, review and revise.

3. Small is big — Targeted, small roll-outs; go from point a to b to c in bite-sized chunks. Small moves can have big effects. Do things that trigger new questions.

4. Start by stopping. It’s easy to be additive, harder but more valuable to take away. Reduce before revising.

5. Listen to the resistance — What are they telling us? How are you viewing it? What’s holding you back? Enable dialogue with no agenda. Resistance is information.

6. Martyrdom is not sustainable — when you come to work as service, you can martyr yourself and burnout. You must find a way to recharge and renew.

7. Careful with conviction — Be open to different ways vs. trading one dogma for another. Adopt a beginner’s mind. Modulate the way we use conviction.

What’s on the leading edge? Strategy — how to balance vision and purpose with emergence, participation and ownership, and what is “enough” (e.g., how big should a business get?)

If you are interested in learning more, visiting website or join the .

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Responsive Org

The Responsive Org movement is creating a fundamental shift in the way we work and organize in the 21st Century.

Deb Seidman

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Responsive Org

The Responsive Org movement is creating a fundamental shift in the way we work and organize in the 21st Century.