10 Principles of Emergent Organizations (And How We Live Them at The Ready)

Sam Spurlin
Dec 15, 2016 · 11 min read
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1. Purpose​: ensure clear vision, mission, and meaning is present for every team, every cell, at every level; let alignment be the prerequisite for autonomy

Our purpose at The Ready is to change how the world works by making it adaptive, meaningful, and abundant. This doesn’t just live on a piece of paper somewhere. We talk about it — a lot. It’s present in the prospectuses we give to clients. We use it as a lens for company-wide retrospectives. It’s everywhere in what we do.

2. Transparency​: default to open, democratize data, and work in public to create a shared consciousness and enable informed decisions everywhere

Our decision to ban 99 percent of internal email and use Slack as our communication platform was with the principle of transparency in mind. Using public channels whenever possible allows us to bring more of our communication into the open instead of being locked into individual email silos.

  • We make decisions about the rules and roles that comprise our organization transparently and share one master record of that information.
  • We’re in the final stages of creating a transparent salary formula (in the vein of Stack Overflow or Buffer, but with our own The Ready spin on it) that will take the mystery and intrigue out of compensation.

3. Networks​: replace hierarchy with a network of decentralized teams and cells, loosely coupled but tightly aligned, dynamically coordinating for value creation, a marketplace model, go beyond flat/horizontal, focus on and reward effective teams (not individuals)

As I alluded to in the Purpose section, we are a self-managing organization — which means we are a network of teams and roles that are extremely fluid and always changing as needed.

4. Empowerment​: enable individuals and teams to make local decisions and, thereby, push authority closer to the customer/market, trust, self-manage, self-organize, use an advice process, focus on consent not consensus, and promote autonomy

I touched on this a bit already in the last section, but working at The Ready is a master’s course in empowerment. From day one, you are expected to figure out what you need to do to provide value and move us closer to our overall purpose.

5. Learning​: experiment, learn by doing, start by starting, validate assumptions, be data-driven, celebrate failure that creates learning, perform retrospectives and postmortems

Every project team at The Ready conducts an internal retrospective at the end of every cycle (month) and we all gather together for an hour every month to share those retrospectives and ask each other questions.

6. Lean​: put simple rules in place that encourage limited scale (at a team level and an org level), reduce layers, reduce time, reduce pages in the presentation, focus on the balance between simplicity and clarity

We don’t have organizational layers and while hierarchy in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, we are very conscious of keeping our structure as simple as possible.

7. Talent Density​: make hiring everyone’s first priority, trust every hire to run the company, raise the bar with every new employee, never ever compromise

As it’s one of our top priorities to find excellent colleagues, everyone who works at The Ready is constantly recruiting. While we do have a role specifically focused on hiring, it’s primarily focused on shepherding people through our process (we actually call it the Hiring Sherpa role).

8. Continuous Steering​: reduce the cycle time, on everything (work, feedback, budgeting, planning, org change), fail fast, learn fast, break things down, smaller moves, smaller decisions, iterate, create rituals and rhythms

Project teams work in one-week sprints that consist of a kick-off and a recap (or what we generally call a weekly ship). This requires us to be extremely focused and work very closely with our clients.

9. Market Driven​: let the market (not leaders) steer the organization, through market pull, focus on value creation and relentlessly remove org debt that is preventing customer outcomes

I’ve referenced the fact in several places already that all of the Team Members at The Ready inhabit roles that are squarely on the edge of the organization. We all spend a ton of time face-to-face with clients and we use that data to steer our company.

10. Take Risks​: adopt a bimodal strategy (sure things and wild swings strategy, commit to taking market risks, reward market making behavior, ensure variation, double down on winners

Our strategy of creating a network of individual practitioners who aren’t full-time employees of The Ready yet still practice under our brand is a somewhat risky one.

Adaptive, Meaningful, and Abundant

We certainly aren’t perfect, and these are not the only principles that matter when it comes to designing great organizations. In the spirit of transparency and continuous steering, though, this represents our best thinking so far. We challenge and guide our clients in adopting the same principles we live because our experience has shown us that organizations who dedicate themselves to these principles experience greater success than those who don’t. While we hold these principles strongly we have only just begun to scratch the surface of possible ways to manifest these principles in the real world.


The Ready

Lessons from our quest to change how the world works.

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