Radical collaboration in enterprises: How does it work?

What would a world with 'no bureaucracies, no bosses and no bull' look like? Like success, says Matt Parker in his new book, 'A Radical Enterprise.'

In his provocative new book, software industry veteran Matt K. Parker argues that organizations practicing radical collaboration are the fastest growing, most competitive organizations in the world. Powered by self-managing employees who deliver without managerial "coercion," these organizations deliver innovative products and projects and lead the competition "on practically every meaningful financial measure."

In this excerpt from A Radical Enterprise (IT Revolution, 2022), Parker defines radical collaboration and outlines specific practices that radically collaborative organizations employ to fuel their success.

A radically collaborative practice is any practice that helps an organization achieve a state of radical collaboration -- in which teams are autonomous, relationships are deficiency gratifying (in which people mutually satisfy each other's higher-level human needs), collective learning is enabled through candid vulnerability and management is no longer the purview of a static dominator hierarchy but rather the shared responsibility of a dynamic heterarchy.

We are still in the early days of radical collaboration. Pioneering organizations are constantly innovating and inventing new practices and structures. Neither the list below nor the practices themselves are definitive. Therefore, think of these practices not as a blueprint but as a starter kit for radically collaborative transformation and experimentation.

Radically collaborative software practices

Outcome team paradigm: Outcome teams are cross-functional and aligned to the delivery of user value while being radically decoupled from codebases. In order to deliver user value, an outcome team may directly modify and deploy any and all codebases within the organization, regardless of who created them or normally maintains them.

radical collaboration chart
The four imperatives for radical collaboration

Bubbles: A process for organically generating, or "bubbling up," short-lived outcome teams center around a particular initiative. These bubbles automatically dissolve, or pop, once the initiative is complete.

Human-centered design: A radically collaborative approach to designing and testing software solutions that brings users directly into the software-making process.

Pair programming: A practice in which two engineers radically collaborate on programming by sharing the exact same computer at the same time and developing the software together, passing the keyboard back and forth.

Devolved management practices

Advice process: Anyone in the organization is allowed to make any decision, so long as the decision maker makes their thought process vulnerable to examination, critique and invalidation by anyone who could be affected by the decision.

Ad hoc leadership teams: In which anyone in the organization can announce an initiative to change something about the organization and anyone interested can join. The ad hoc team has full authority to make any change, so long as they are transparent about the process they go through.

Holacracy-powered governance: A rigorously efficient process for the collective evolution of an organization's structure and roles. [Holacracy] enables anyone in the organization, at any time, to raise up an organizational tension and have it immediately processed and resolved.

'A Radical Enterprise' book coverClick here to learn more
about A Radical Enterprise
by Matt K. Parker.

Peer pods: Self-managed groups of peers providing ad hoc coaching, mentoring and support for each other in their careers.

Onboarding buddies/"sponsors": In which a radical collaborator sponsors an incoming colleague, pairing with them for a number of days or weeks in order to help the new colleague orient themselves within a nonhierarchical environment and to find their place within it.

Job fairs: In which new and potential projects are laid out to the organization for radical collaborators to consider freely joining.

Devolved compensation practices

Deming pay system: In which everyone in the organization receives a predetermined, transparent salary that is then automatically incremented every year through predetermined, transparent annual raises. Profit sharing is also distributed equally among all members.

Fractal organizational model: In which everyone in the organization is a virtual company of one, complete with a balance sheet and a profit-and-loss statement. Salaries are a result of the negotiated commitments people make to each other along the value stream and the individual surpluses that results.

Self-managed pay: In which individuals transparently set their own salaries and determine their own raises at any time.

Deficiency-gratifying/candid vulnerability practices

Balance scores: Radical collaborators start each day by sharing with each other a score between one and ten that represents how balanced they feel between work life, home life and spiritual life. It's a tool for increasing transparency, vulnerability and empathy while also helping participants calibrate with each other at the beginning of a collaboration.

Check-ins: Radical collaborators create a sacred space at the beginning of meetings for each other to vulnerably name what is distracting them or keeping them from being fully present in the moment.

Two-column "thinking versus saying" exercises: After a challenging conversation, sit down with a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle, dividing it into two columns. On the right-hand column, transcribe the conversation from memory. On the left-hand column, write down the thoughts you were having but failing to vocalize. The delta between the two typically reveals a good deal of defensive reasoning within yourself, as opposed to candid vulnerability.

Biggest fail of the week: Team members take turns sharing accidents, mistakes and outright professional or personal failures with each other. The process creates an environment of collective support and encourages personal growth by normalizing imperfection.

Coin ceremony: A ceremony in which radical collaborators freely recognize each other not for their day-to-day work but for their "being" -- for who they are and what they contribute to those around them and to the world.

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