Empty Emancipation Without Choice

I completed another engagement with a client 3 days ago confirming what Daniel Mezick, Author of Open Space Agility Handbook and The Culture Game has said about inviting the people who do the work into an Agile Transformation. Inspired by Participatory company forerunners, Semco and Morning Star, my client eliminated all titles (Manager, Director, Team Lead, etc.), performance reviews*, etc. Then said to his entire workforce, “There are no rules. Govern yourselves. Don’t focus on Utilization rates. I emancipate you.”  At least, that’s the way the message landed with the knowledge workers.
Everyone freaked out. Even the Agilists in the company were stunned and despondent, because you cannot mandate freedom any more than you can abandon people to the Tyranny of Structurelessness.
Result: Workers complained. Some resigned. Profitability took a hit.
Then, the client used Open Space Agility’s definition of a Good Game, I facilitated an optional-attendance all hands meeting where the CEO apologized for his mis-step, and clarified his offering of a non-expiring choice: “We invite you to:
A) play a new game of experimentation within a new explicit set of guard rails, prizes, scoring and goal, and freedom to opt-out again.
B) Opt-in to the old game of working, with its persistent, explicit set of guard rails, prizes, scoring and goal, and equal respect and gratitude from the CEO for their contribution too. The opt-in door to option A) remains open to everyone, in perpetuity.”
The next work day 24 of 38 workers (total company size = 39) chose A) and only 2 chose B), abstaining workers default to B).

Do you see that people want a word in the matter of how they work? It must be a Good Game to be happy. Let’s respect people’s choice and use OSA for the transformation.

There are a few books on the costs and negative externalities of annual written performance reviews.  Find them here, and here.
A short presentation on the field of Participatory company’s with a list of reference books can be found here.


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