Making loose organizations work

Making loose organizations work

The roughly 40 people who participated in the SxSW session “Hold On Loosely” all work in small and growing companies that bring in contractors as needed for specific projects or work as virtual teams. Our facilitator described these “loose organizations” as: polymotivated, project-oriented, innovative and not hierarchical, with autonomous teams that have the flexibility to work when and where they want. But how do people actually make that work? Over the hour that followed, the group discussed their strategies:

  • The key is keeping people accountable. Attendees said they used online tools and meetings to keep people on the same page. Many are on Skype and IM all day. Weekly meetings, either in person or remote, bring everyone together to talk about what everyone’s working on. And mid-project, daily scrub meetings are standard. People also talked about needed to keep master schedules of everyone’s time, since everyone is in different time zones and working flexible schedules. One woman said her team uses Google calendar to block off the times people are not available.
  • Finding good people you can trust is hard in a virtual environment. Sometimes it takes a long time to realize that a person is not working out, longer than if everyone were together in person. One attendee talked about a program he uses that scores programmers based on how good their work is, letting them compete against each other to continue the work. Another said he keeps a list of his favorite freelancers and lets them pick the best work first, keeping them motivated to continue doing great work.
  • Consistently communicating vision takes work. Attendees talked about how they maintain the overall vision of the company (guiding principles, 10 things that ought to be true at all times) as well as the vision of the project (posting a one-page brief as a Google doc for each phase of the project).
  • Project management and collaboration tools help. Most of the people in the room said they rely on Google Docs, cloud-based project management tools and other collaboration solutions to communicate. However, no one had yet found a great solution to replace in-person whiteboarding.

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