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Thriving Communities for New Ways of Working: Don't Travel Alone

Lisa Gill
Written by Lisa Gill May 31, 2023

One of the questions I get asked a lot is: “What communities are out there for people like me interested in exploring and practicing new ways of working?” Over the years, I have provided numerous responses to this inquiry. This blog serves as both a convenient reference for myself (allowing me to just share a link) and a valuable resource for anyone seeking this knowledge.

Since 2015, I’ve probably joined and/or shaped twenty or so communities centered around this topic. Additionally, I have discovered many more through connections I’ve met along the way.

I have the privilege, thanks to my podcast and book, of being connected to hundreds of individuals worldwide who are doing interesting things together to advance collective learning and improve the way we work. Drawing from this vantage point, I offer some insights that I hope will prove helpful to you.

What are you looking for in a community?

My first recommendation is to think about what you want to get out of a community.

  • Are you seeking companionship and the opportunity to connect with like-minded people? This can be especially relevant if you are a progressive thinker in a traditional organization, where you may feel lonely at times.
  • Do you crave the opportunity for collaborative brainstorming? Are you eager to have deep conversations about the meaning of new ways of working and how to approach it?
  • Do you wish to learn and experiment? To put ideas into practice?
  • Are you seeking assistance with real-time challenges as you implement new ways of working? Wanting to workshop and problem solve, leveraging the collective wisdom of the crowd?
I have mapped out three common needs I’ve encountered over the years, along with examples of corresponding communities. Of course, some of these communities might cover more than one of these needs, and you may find value in joining multiple communities, each fulfilling a different need.

However, I believe it is useful to distinguish the different possibilities so that you can enter a community with a clear purpose.

Need 1: Talk about it together

This is often relevant if you are a beginner or haven’t started your journey yet and want to get some inspiration, hear from people in the field, and talk to others about what they’re learning. That being said, you might also have this need even if you’ve been practising for years – new questions arise all the time and it’s always good to expose yourself to fresh thinking.

Good examples of communities that meet this need are:

  1. The Teal Around the World conference, an online global event inspired by Frederic Laloux’s book ‘Reinventing Organizations’. It features a mix of keynote speakers (like Laoux himself), storytellers who are actively practicing 'teal' in some way, interactive sessions, and spontaneous conversations in the virtual coffee breaks in SpatialChat (where some of my favourite personal learning moments have occurred).
  2. Reinventing Work – an independent community of people from around the world interested in reinventing work. While mostly gravitated around a Slack community, they also organize physical meetups (most active in the UK), often with specific themes such as transitioning to ‘roles-based’ ways of working.
Self-organization is all about strong connections, so what better way to grow and develop than through relationships?
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Need 2: Learning and developing together

Perhaps you’ve been doing some self-study around new ways of working and you’re hungry to learn with and from others. Self-organization is all about strong connections, so what better way to grow and develop than through relationships?

Consider the following opportunities for growth:

  1. Explore how progressive organizations operate and learn about implementing new structures and processes, such as distributed decision-making, through courses offered by the Corporate Rebels Academy.
  2. ‘Learn by doing’ through practical individual and group exercises in courses like Greaterthan’s Liberating Structures Studio, The Hum’s Patterns for Self-Organizing Teams, or Sociocracy training with Sociocracy For All or Sociocracy 3.0.
  3. Deep-dive into the personal development aspect, exploring the mindset and skill set shift needed for thriving in co-leadership with courses like Tuff Leadership Training Step 1.

Need 3: Collaborative problem-solving

Once you start the journey of transforming your organization, you’ll encounter all kinds of challenges and opportunities you could never have predicted when reading a book or attending a conference or even participating in a course. There is something magical about getting together with people facing similar situations, sharing both the joys and frustrations, and tapping into collective wisdom to crack open issues you’re wrestling with.

I recently participated in a session with three self-managing organizations in different sectors in the UK. They brought forth questions they were struggling with, including: How do you approach learning and development in your organization? What does HR look like in a ‘teal’ company? And how do you make decisions? Each company shared their experiences, discussing what they had tried, what had worked (and what hadn't), and offered advice to one another.

Two notable communities I’ve come across recently addressing this need are:

  • GEMBA Expedition – an initiative organized by Jorge Pines, co-founder of self-managing software company 10Pines, and two Agile coaches. This expedition takes senior leaders from Latin American companies on a tour of progressive organizations in Spain, varying in size and industry, facilitating firsthand learning about radical ways of organizing by talking to the employees themselves.
  • Coaching Circle – a space organized by the Head of Organizational Development at a self-managing organization in the UK. It brings together coaches and leaders from other 'teal' or self-managing companies using the Case Clinic format from Theory U. This format allows participants to share challenges, receive ideas, and offer support.

What are examples of communities you have encountered around the world in each of these different categories?

Written by Lisa Gill
Lisa Gill
Self-managing organisations coach and trainer, writer, and Leadermorphosis podcast host
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