Improvising on a Theme: trying out different ways of working

I’ve written before about some of the work Tuttle did with Counterpoint, but I haven’t really talked about how we did it.

This is remiss of me, because the most interesting thing for me was the opportunity to try a new way of working.

At last month’s discussion on social media in enterprises, there was a lot of talk of new, flatter organsiation forms – virtual firms – mediated through, perhaps, social media; for decades, Charles Handy has been going on about portfolio workers and the shamrock organisation (I’ve always been dubious about that last, having experienced too many sham organisations…). I can remember discussing different levels of worker engagement in organisations, full-time through part-time to freelance associates, twenty years ago (before I was the least bit interested in it).

There has been lots of talk and lots of theory, then; but I hadn’t really seen any evidence of it.

This was a shame, because it sounded to me like a great way to work: lots of variety, lots of flexibility, little security: kind of “freelance-plus”, if you like.

I was therefore very interested when Lloyd first floated the idea of “Tuttle Consulting”, a bunch of freelancers who met through Tuttle Club working on projects together. I thought of it as a loose affiliation of associates – definitely the realm of a virtual organisation.

Here were nine or ten of us in all working on different aspects of five projects for Counterpooint and the British Council, and it was the first time that any of us had worked together before.

It was very much a learning experience, and there is a lot I think we could have done better – with hindsight. Because we were all working in a new fashion, the working relationships needed to be negotiated between us – and that is a hefty number of relationships to negotiate straight up. We naturally enough each had a different set of expectations (as well as wants and needs).

From its inception it was a very loose arrangement; the client wanted us to be as creative as possible, and so they set a very broad brief. This meant we were also negotiating around their expectations, wants and needs, too. We were nearly as empowered as any team I have worked on before, which was energising but created some new issues, too.

Not being in any formal contractual arrangement, there was no formal power relationship – no one could tell anyone else what to do. In some ways this was a delight, since it meant a concensus view had to be strived for, but it also meant that when decisions needed ot be made there was increased uncertainty.

I think the main lessons for me were about communication – which doesn’t surprise me at all: I think most management issues involve communication at one level or another. One of the reasons that flatter organisation structures are seen to be the structure of the future is that up-and-down communication will be greatly simplified; and people coming together in project teams for the first time need more communication.

To start, I think we could have had more effective, in depth induction. To be fair, we knew this at the time – not all of us could make the briefing session. Taking the time to really explore what we each expected from the project – and from each other – would have made sense; indeed, having this session mediated by someone outside the team would have been beneficial, too. (Thing is, we could all do facilitation, so it didn’t seem worth it at the time…!)

Similarly, I think having more whole team sessions as the projects progressed would have been beneficial, too. Each of the four main projects stood very much alone: there wasn’t a great deal of cross-linkage between them. I believe that there could have been more, creating a fully fledged suite of projects. I think the benefits – not least through mutual understanding and support within the team – would have left us more engaged in the whole rather than our own individual projects. It would have helped us in the multiple negotiations we undoubtedly undertook.

There were lots of things that worked very well, of course: basically, it was exciting to be working in what felt to be a very different way. We were improvising – making it up as we went along, and that felt good. The flexibility and empowerment that came along with that felt very healthy, too; but perhaps the lack of a fixed framework – the rigid scaffolding of some organisations, for instance – made it harder at times, too.

I think it was a great experience: definitely the start of a model which we can learn from, and I certainly hope that we will continue to work together in one form of relationship or another. It felt good to be trying something new.

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One thought on “Improvising on a Theme: trying out different ways of working

  1. Pingback: Community and Co-operation: talking about #Tuttle at #Tuttlecamp « Patrick's Blog

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