Patterns of Decentralized Organizing - Notes and Takeaways

Systematically Distributing Care Labor

“It’s impossible to sustain a thriving collaborative if the load of care is not shared fairly.”

Community is formed from a sense of belonging.

Care includes

  • practical hospitality
    – preparing(organizing) & cleaning up(curating/disseminating)
  • emotional work
    – (noticing frustration, checking in, etc.)
  • subtle gestures of consideration
    – organizing birthday cards
    – listening to someone decompress
    – opening a window when its stuffy, etc. etc.

“if there is no formal system for managing a shared resource, look for the informal system.”

For care labor it typically is the most sensitive person to others needs doing the most work.

Upside: You have at least 1 expert caretaker almost always.
Downside: System is super duper fragile and unfair.

“If this unofficial “chief carer” gets overwhelmed or frustrated, they’ll stop, and the group loses its cohesion. Many people don’t even know that the care work is happening, so they’re certainly not prepared to pick up their fair share.”

Founders Bottleneck
Everyone is comfortable in their own domain, but when there is conflict, they default to the founders.

Particularly dangerous if the person most sensitive to everyone’s needs is the founder.

Loomio says “Caregiving is just as important as engineering and growth”
In Loomio they do “Stewardship” where everyone is a steward, and everyone has a steward.

  • Loomio cycles stewards yearly, then switches to continually cycle and refresh the org.

What does it mean to care for your team mates? Open Question.

  • being reliable?
  • someone you can talk about non-work life stuff for
  • someone who proactively says “how can I support you?”
    – could just be learning goals, or could be just someone to shoot the shit with.
  • could be simply to remind people “what can I remind you of next time we meet? Something that’s present now, that you would want to circle back to?”

Loomio makes a distinction between resilience and anti-fragile and believes this level of caretaking makes the peopleops anti-fragile. Because the effects truly kick in during the tough times.

Shared difficulty is an amazing bonding agent (in the trenches!), and interpersonal conflict resolution is easier when you have a trusted parter to lean on.

The share isn’t the exact same, but there is no single point of failure.

Increasing the emotional intelligence(EQ) of team is of primary concern.

Make Explicit Norms and Boundaries

“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

Norm - is an informal guideline of what is normal. “How we do things”
Boundary - “how we don’t do things”

We rely heavily on “common sense” in an org, but common sense can be subjective.

Explicit Boundaries are less likely to be crossed.
How do we make boundaries explicit?

How do we agree?

Too many rules is burdensome.

The golden rule “treat others the way you want to be treated”.

Try to have only as many rules as people can remember.

Can we condense our values, principles and competencies into easy to remember anecdotes?

Keep talking about Power

Its very discouraging to here “we’re equal” or “we are all in this together” if peoples experience does not reflect this.

Loomio says “we are all working to be equal” which is more realistic and address there is still work to be done.

Jack(loomio jack not pocket jack) believes that’s groups start to thrive when they can openly discuss power differentials between members.

“Everyone has equal power” may be unattainable or unrealistic.
“Everyone can safely discuss power differences” is very useful goal.

This is never ending and why this is titled “Keep talking about power”

Some power differences are healthy, some are toxic.
Expertise for example gives a person more influence over that domain(i.e Andrew on protocol decisions)
Stuff like the entire orgs direction, who keeps jobs, compensation, should not be one person alone. That would be toxic.

Defining Power

in physics power is the rate of doing work.

in sociology power is the capacity to mobilize resources to attend to needs

ecofeminist Starhawk defines power

  • power-from-within or empowerment — the creative force you feel when you’re making art, or speaking up for something you believe in
  • collective power or solidarity — empowered people coming together to act in unison
  • power-with or social power — influence, status, rank, or authority that determines how much you are listened to in a group
  • power-over or coercion — power used by one person to control another

she warns that often in collective groups the focus in banishing power-over which makes them have a hard time dealing with power-with.

equal power dogma stifles initiative & creativity.

the point isn’t to find a perfect fit, but to continually have the conversation about power and how it is effecting your organization either positivity or negatively.

A simple way of looking at power is framing it who/what is allowing us to attend to more and more peoples needs.

Structures of Healthy Power

roles… rotation, transparency, access, mandate, veto

eldership, mimicry, modelling pro-social behaviours, using their status to elevate others

if you have a role that tends to attract influence, like a manager, coordinator, spokesperson. It’s easy for those roles to attract a lot of power, so we are careful to document the roles: this is what is expected of you, this is what’s in, this is what’s out.

You’re a spokesperson which means you represent us to the world, but you don’t just get to make up whatever you think.

You’re a coordinator so you facilitate the team to set a strategic direction, you don’t set the direction yourself.

At loomio they cycle these types of roles on rotation.

They will pair an experienced person with an inexperienced person to not slow down the process while supporting the growth of another.

And then they let the members decide for themselves if this role is worth developing in the long run. They don’t force people to keep developing these roles if they dont want to.

THIS!!! - But if you have held a position where you have to coordinate 10 people to give feedback or create notes, etc. The next time someone asks you, you are going to be responsive and not delay because you can empathies more with them.

Founder Question: How might you leave in a way that makes the team stronger?

Navigating Communications Landscape

Common communications problems

  • I’m drowning in information overload
  • I can’t find the information I need
  • I get interrupted every 5 minutes
  • …endless email chains
  • I can never get people’s attention
  • I’m afraid I’ll break something if I click the wrong thing
  • Our archives are a mess
  • Not another @#$%ing tool!
  1. Agree on how you will use a tools, make guidelines explicit
  2. Introduce new tools with care.

IDEA: Every time a document is written, have someone write another version based on there.

You have to make explicit what a tool should and shouldn’t be used for.
Try and incorporate environmental cues.
Reinforce the agreed usage in daily life.

A good model(that we already use):

  • Realtime
  • Async
  • Static

Exercise: Make a map.
The important thing is to get agreement on what tools serve what purposes.

Enspirals comms map.

Dealing with conflict in a digital space

loomio conflict

“Whenever misunderstanding or conflict arise escalate the bandwidth of the channel. If you’re on Loomio (asynchronous text) move to chat (synchronous text), from chat to a voice call, voice call to video call, video call to in person meeting.” - good principle.

Handle new tools with care

New tools can very easily make comms worse.
Generally, people do a terrible job at introducing new tools.

  1. Agree on the problem
  2. Sub-group evaluates options
  3. Run a well-defined trial
  4. Support people to learn the tool + grow a new habit
  5. Evaluate the trial

Make decisions asynchronously

Often times when people say “be more inclusive” they mean “have more meetings”

Meetings are expensive.

Decision making toolbox

Loomio leverages similar decision making models outlined here (

"“The most important decision to be made collaboratively is the decision about who makes which decisions.” Rosenberg

Prerequisites for letting go

  • transparency
  • shared direction
  • patience and care for the learning curve
  • proactive relationship support
  • reactive relationship support
  • proactive team reflection
  • training

Exercise: Purpose retrospective
Exercise: Distinguish preference and tolerance

Use Rhythm to Address Information Overload

The main benefit of hierarchy is to manage information flows.

Invites us to categorize information in time not place.

Loomios rhythms

Daily - taken from agile

  1. What did you do yesterday?
  2. What are you doing today?
  3. What obstacles do you face?
  4. What are you doing for your wellbeing?

Fortnightly - Sprint Planning

  1. High level - what you are going to do
  2. Talk honestly about capacity (I have a wedding so I might be less productive.)
  3. Retrospective - ???
  4. Demo - always on friday afternoons. Like a congrats and acknowledgement

Quarterly Rhythms

  1. Converge on objectives and key results
  2. Review budget
  3. Peer reviews

Bi annual Rhythms

  1. retreats where everyone gets together in person.

Innovation is inherently destabilizing, and if everything is always changing it breaks the groove.

Its great to course correct, but bad to not give proper time and care to see if a project succeeds.

Rhythms solve a lot of information overload.

They aim for 80% consistency, 20% change across quarters.

Rhythm Mapping:

How do you split up the year?
e.g. quarters
What are your regular activities? e.g. monthly Board meeting
What projects do you take on?
What decisions happen? Who needs to be included? What are your working groups/ committees/ teams?

Generating New Patterns

There is no one-size fits all

At loomio in there sprint sessions they go
At the end of each two-week period of work, we stop and reflect in our “Retrospective” meeting (this name comes from Agile/Scrum methodologies). We use many different formats for the meeting, but they all follow the same essential recipe: Good, Bad, Change.

  1. Thinking back on the last two weeks, what was good? What did you enjoy? What gave you energy? Where did you feel like you were in the zone?
  2. What was bad? When did you feel frustrated? What slowed us down? What made you sad?
  3. What are we going to change?

Curing Change Anxiety

Change can be traumatic

If process’ arent clear, people get disoriented.

If there are toxic power dynamics in your team, any proposed change will be viewed with suspicion: are you suggesting this new process to increase transparency, or because you’re trying to undermine my role?

Aim for small frequent changes. Focus on rhythm.

If you know every two weeks we will evaluate the rhythm, then your more likely to accept a peers proposal.

Agile rockstar recommends 30 second retrospectives for the purpose of improving via feedback and sharing.

Recommends to use an external facilitator.

Exercise: Change Mapping
Map everything that has changed in the past months.

Focus on the generative sequences that produce patterns(Unfolding’s) more then patterns themselves.

Each unfolding has three key features which define its operation and its effect.

  1. Unlike a pattern, which is a static configuration, an unfolding is dynamic. It acts to generate form.
  2. Unlike a pattern, an unfolding arises from the whole, is shaped by the whole, and acts upon the whole
  3. An unfolding is by its nature personal, and requires human input and human feeling from the people doing the work, as an essential part of its contribution to the formation of the environment. — Christopher Alexander

This requires a kind of literacy in pattern-recognition, a broad source of input material to remix, and a dedicated space to evaluate and modify our current patterns.

Getting Unstuck with Peers

"We put a tonne of energy into building a conflict-resolution process, but in the end it didn’t help at all.”
My colleagues just don’t understand accountability.”It’s always like that around here.“I know what needs to change, but people don’t listen to me.” Sound familiar?”

If a group is a web of relationships, sometimes that webs loses elasticity. Everyone gets stuck in their positions and can’t find a way to loosen up.

One of the best ways to get unstuck is to get help from an external peer.

A peer being someone you respect, someone who has shared experiences with you, and can empathize with your situation.

This works especially well with the retrospectives. People will open up more if an external peer is facilitating.

Some things they apply here.

  • Peer Garden(similar to player profiles) as a hub for peers to connect and share.
  • The Art of Hosting - a network for better facilitation.
  • Teal meetups - from the book reinventing organizations.
  • Consultant, Coach, Advisor, Friend - finding folks that fit each category to lean on in different situations.

References in book to read later... maybe