Bringing Employee Self-Organizing to Community Solutions

By Kashay Sanders, May 13, 2016 - 1:08pm

At Google, a concept called “employee self-organizing,” allows employees to work together to improve the company while enhancing the quality of work relationships. Every workplace has problems, but those problems can feel bigger and more disruptive when workers lack free reign to address them.

Kashay Sanders is a Neighborhood Coach in our Consulting division. She is also our resident "people geek," a term that will make sense after you read her thoughts below about the introduction of employee self-organizing at Community Solutions.

Work Rules! is a People Management Manifesto written by Laszlo Bock, Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations. It details the triumphs and difficulties of ensuring people feel supported in their roles and can maximize their strengths at Google.  

I got my hands on Work Rules! and read it like the last Harry Potter book on release day in 2007. That was when I, like Harry (follow me on this one), had to accept who I was, what I was-- a People Geek.  

Culture Amp defines a People Geek as “a People Person typically found in People Operations, Recruitment or Leadership who gets excited about how data and insights can drive a better world to work in.”

Perhaps not as prodigious as Harry’s calling, but certainly personally profound.

As I read Bock’s book, I was particularly drawn to examples of employees tackling problems internally, even when those problems fell outside the purview of their jobs.  At Google, a concept called “employee self-organizing,” allows employees to work together to improve the company while enhancing the quality of work relationships.

Every workplace has problems, but what I gleaned from Work Rules! is that those problems can feel bigger and more disruptive when workers lack free reign to address them.

For example, imagine you feel frustrated by direction-less meetings, or unsure about your effectiveness because you aren’t getting enough feedback from your colleagues. Employee self-organizing provides an outlet for addressing problems like these that keep employees from doing their best work. It allows employees to devote brainpower to things they may have had a desire to address for a long time, all with the support of management.

This level of agency in an organization builds its resilience by surfacing new leaders, promoting cross-functional team work, and ensuring employee needs see the light of day. Thoughts like, “If it were up to me...” or, “We just need to...” take on new power as leadership opportunities become available to those without “Chief” or “Director ” in their titles.

Soon after I got in touch with my People Geek identity, our Chief Learning Officer, David Thompson, asked me to research what it takes to build healthy organizational cultures. In my final report, I included the examples of employee self-organizing from Work Rules!. In response, David proposed establishing similar processes at Community Solutions.

Over the past year, we have piloted employee self-organizing under an umbrella called “Rooster Calls.” (During our 100,000 Homes Campaign, our team used the term “Rooster” to refer to partners who went above and beyond in their work.) Rooster Calls are meant to offer team members an opportunity to pitch in and solve a problem that affects us all. Anyone can propose a Rooster Call topic at any time.

Early on, the facilitators of the Rooster Call process decided to incorporate tools and techniques from our external work. For instance, our Consulting and Zero: 2016 teams often host “action labs” or “action camps”—three day experiences that help a group of people in a community develop and achieve large goals in short periods of time. These events provide participants with tools for tracking progress, coaching from Community Solutions staff and a structure for consistent group check-ins over a few months. Likewise, we asked rooster teams to develop 3-4 month goals, check in consistently, divide the work and share in the evaluation and next steps process.

What we have achieved so far is exciting. More than half the organization has participated in at least one of eight Rooster Calls to date, and participation has come from across functions, teams and titles.

Thanks to one Rooster Call on building learning systems, we now have a database of free online trainings that about a quarter of all staff has accessed. Another group has boot-strapped a performance management portfolio and recently released a learning and development tool. Groups have also developed the Rooster Strut series, in which any team member can teach the organization about a new topic over a virtual lunch.

As momentous as this start has been, we are still moving through lots of questions. For instance, we have a fairly small organization, less than 100 people. How can we ensure the emerging suite of Rooster events isn’t draining our team’s reserves? And how do we diversify and support the group of people who lead these projects to ensure that all levels of the organization feel equipped to step up? These questions make the work challenging, but they also highlight the huge potential still left to unearth.

It’s an exciting moment for employee self-organizing at Community Solutions. Expect more details to come!

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