Zebras Unite
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Zebras Unite

Zebras in the Wild: Brian Haney | Co-op member

With our series “Zebras in the Wild”, we are excited to take you on a journey around the world to meet founding members, chapter leads, co-op members and allies. We talk to Zebras in the wild and report back how they’re challenging the status quo, how they envision the future and how we can support them in their mission!

In this conversation, meet Brian K Haney. Brian is a leadership coach, a team development consultant, and a recovering Google systems engineer. He started in the tech world as a solo practitioner, working with small businesses to “Empower people with Internet technology.” At Google for 14 years, he found that his passion is more about empowering people than it is about technology. Now as a coach and consultant, he helps leaders and their teams to become more effective and to navigate the stormy waters of working more effectively in an uncertain world.

Read how Brian envisions the capital, community and culture of the next economy:

A Zebra is…

…a pioneer, a visionary, an agent for change — -an entrepreneur of a different stripe.

What’s wrong with the status quo…

Workers don’t have much agency in their work. They lack voice in what they do and how they do it.

Today, workers are better educated than ever before. Even if they aren’t lawyers, accountants, or engineers, today’s workers can easily grasp the fundamentals of promises, profits, and processes. It’s time to replace the legacy model of Management Science with structures and processes of team self-management.

The profession of “manager” is obsolete.

But teams still need leadership. People need a shared vision, a sense of purpose, a picture of what’s possible and how to realize that vision. Leadership holds that vision.

A bumper sticker I want:

People managers are obsolete. Projects should be managed. People should be led.

… and what needs to be fixed

A) Managers need to transform into leaders. They inspire action toward a shared vision, not to lean on the crutch of coercion to control people.

B) Workers need to recognize the power being delegated to them and exercise it well. They need new habits, new structures, and new processes of self-governance. They need to learn how to function as citizens who exercise power in service of a shared vision.

C) Teams (workers and their leaders) need to embrace a new paradigm. Organizations — be they large corporations, startup ventures, or social service agencies — are not machines. Organizations are not designed, built, and operated with levers and dials.

Organizations are groomed ecosystems, communities of flora and fauna to be cultivated and nurtured to yield value.

(Corollary: “Human Resources” is an oxymoron. Humans are not mere resources, not automatons, not mere “factors of production.” Humans are people with faces, names, hopes, and fears. Humans are people with souls. Treat them as the sacred creatures they are.)

Brian’s vision for the future

In my ideal future, people are excited to start their work day. They pour their heart and soul into that work all day. And they go home feeling deeply satisfied that they worked well for a good cause.

The community of the next economy

A community is a body of people joined by shared values. Those shared values give rise to a shared vision of the future, a shared sense of purpose that can be nurtured into strategies, objectives, and projects to realize that vision.

An effective community is an effective team, writ large. (See Google’s Project Aristotle and their view of effective teams.)

Without that shared vision, a community is just a fan club.

Leadership in that community is the grooming of the ecosystem, the cultivation of the garden, the tending of the flock.

The capital infrastructure of the next economy

Members of the community — the people joined by shared values and their concomitant vision — invest assets into a pool of resources that the community decides to apply toward projects that are designed to realize that shared vision. Those assets can be fungible instruments or sweat equity.

How does the community make those decisions? Ironically, that’s for the community to decide. The community must decide how it’s going to make decisions. In other words, the community must agree to streamlined processes and structures to make those strategic and tactical decisions most effectively.

The values of the next economy

Agency. Everyone has agency in the work they do and how they do it. They surrender some of that agency by their own choice in order to coordinate efforts among teammates, cross-functional colleagues, and stakeholders, thus improving the effectiveness of the community.

A Zebra can make an honest mistake without repercussions.

Psychological Safety. Everyone feels a sense of psychological safety. A Zebra can raise questions without fear of reprisal. A Zebra can make an honest mistake without repercussions. (Dishonest mistakes are another matter. Until proven otherwise, assume benign intent, but malicious intent must be met swiftly with consequences. Further reading: Google SRE Blameless Post Mortems.)

Purpose. Everyone has a sense of purpose. That purpose might not be directly linked to the work at hand, but the work is still in service of a purpose. Grunge work might afford a family vacation in a special place. That vacation is a purpose. The grunge work is in service to that purpose. Similarly, writing exquisite code might serve an engineer’s need for artistic expression. The function the code serves might not be directly relevant to the engineer, but the elegance of the code is. That work still serves the engineer’s sense of purpose.

(Side note: In general, the closer the work and the purpose are linked, the more engaged the worker will be. More engaged workers bring more of themselves — their souls, their levels of commitment, their emotional energy — to the work at hand. The organization, the community, should strive to link work to a sense of purpose that resonates with the values of the participants.)

Ownership. Everyone has a sense of ownership of the outcomes that they can create. The work is not just a job. It’s an expression of who they are.

Clarity. Everyone has a clear picture of the structures and processes relevant to their own work. Where ambiguity exists, confusion is likely to follow. Every Zebra can cry “Foul!” on ambiguity and call for clarity (where that clarity is possible) or has license to resolve that ambiguity as best suits their purpose.

Impact. Everyone’s work matters. Work that has little hope of impact on outcomes should be avoided. It’s not just a waste of resources, it’s a waste of soul.

Brian’s contribution

I empower people.

I started in tech as a solo internet engineer in 1994. My tagline was, “Empowering people with Internet technology.” I’d come alongside small business owners and show them how the internet was going to change everything and how they could leverage it in their businesses. I built servers on bare metal: web servers, email servers, DNS servers, firewalls, file servers. I taught UNIX, Linux, and TCP/IP administration classes. I developed some “Web 1.0” (pre-HTML5/CSS/Javascript) applications.

Later I joined Google. After several years in SRE, I discovered that technology was merely one way to empower people. While my Cloud Platform Support team was practicing Holacracy, I discovered other ways. I trained as a Holacracy coach, learning not just how Holacracy works, but why it works. And as a TeamDev Consultant, I coached leaders to delegate power and coached their teams to exercise that power well.

Now, having left Google in 2020, I’m bringing my passion for empowering people to the rest of the world. I’m exploring other team self-management frameworks, such as Sociocracy and Semco Style self-management. I’m helping teams create their shared vision and ways to realize that vision. I’m coaching leaders and their teams to be more effective.

I chose my pirate profile photo because I want to shake things up. I want to show crews how they can shape their own destinies, to help them navigate the stormy waters of leadership and self-management. And sometimes I want to poke authority and toxic leadership in the eye. (More reading: Be More Pirate: Or How to Take on the World and Win)

How can we support you?

Connect me with organizations that want to:

  • grow effectiveness teams
  • transform managers into leaders
  • empower teams to manage themselves
  • create a shared team vision and develop ways to realize that vision.

Brian asks the community

What gets in the way of your vision for the future?


Catherine Jaeger in the Zebras Unite San Francisco Bay Area Chapter — she introduced me to ZU and encouraged me to lean into my values. We first met in the Semco Style Expert training program.

Connect with Brian



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Anika Horn

Anika Horn

Ecosystem builder for social change. Founder at www.socialventurers.com Meet me over at www.anikahorn.com for all things social enterprise!