High-trust teams to navigate the futureS of work

our Tetrapod experiment

Manel Heredero and I started collaborating as a team in late 2017. The seeds for our first project together were planted in the Ouishare Summit of that same year. The Summit, our yearly Ouishare gathering, was held on that occasion in the countryside near Munich and it was hosted by the Ouishare Munich team, led by David and Sarah. That was a beautifully framed gathering, with great facilitation and hosting. They knew what they were doing and apart from being great professionals, they are great people too. From that moment I set myself the intention to work with them in the future.

An image of that Summit in Munich in 2017

And so time went by and Manel and I had three years of close collaboration, lots of projects in different European cities, lots of travel, lots of talking about our team, what team we wanted to be in the future, how we could involve more people while keeping our values and general alignment…lots of conversations and tries to surf and survive in the networks we work in, which we often enough experienced as a jungle.

We are a network of communities in an ecosystem of networks; navigating this space on your own can get really tough. In our experience, how you get value through networks is based on reputation: it’s about the value that you create and how visible that is. They are meritocratic systems. There are up-and-downsides to this. I did mention that Manel and I had some very intense three years because that’s what we had to prove: that we were good professionals and that we were in the places where things were happening. We did enjoy getting to know different places and loved being around great people, but also because we could not “afford” to say no to a project, if you do, will the same person contact you for the next one? If another person gets a gig, the contact stays with that person and you are out of the picture. If you navigate these spaces alone, they can be very unstable. On the other side of the spectrum, a usual complaint in the space was that people felt they could not rely on the availability of other colleagues. For example, someone would get a new project in and then there was no team to deliver it because everyone was doing his / her thing. So in the end, it was tricky to rely on capacity that was not your own.

To solve this problem some of our colleagues have been creating ventures in the past few years and have left Ouishare to pursue their entrepreneurial paths outside of it. Building up ventures gets people to have “skin in the game” as Manel likes to call it. There is a structure to take care of, to set the common direction for. At the same time this same structure puts you in legal obligations and increases costs.

There definitely are many more upsides and downsides to building a venture, but the point of this article is our version of it, what we have done instead: our Tetrapod experiment.

What’s the experiment about?

After three years of partnership, Manel and I merged our tandem (pod) with the one Sarah and David had been into.

So we became a Tetrapod.

You can read more about pods in this Enspiral blogpost that inspired us. In short and taking it from the article a livelihood pod is a collection of people who commit to working and learning together.

We started working very closely together back in June this year and we intentionally launched our Tetrapod routines early September. After we did our first team retrospective this December we wanted to share our intention and some of our learnings.

Why the Tetrapod? These are some of our answers from our retrospective:

  • I want to work in a team setting, which is more than a short term set up for a project
  • Potentially this can be a space for growing together, commit and make each other more “successful” whatever that means
  • I admire everyone in this pod and I find that your knowledge and skills make me a better worker (and person)
  • I choose working in this pod because it multiplies our capacity today and our resilience tomorrow
  • Our shared vision of the world we want and the values that shape our actions
  • A sense of potential and strength and a sense of a shared common vision

What are the conditions that make this alliance possible?

  • Having worked together in the past
  • Ouishare as a common basis
  • Common area of work: organisational transformation, ecosystemic collaboration, community building, online participatory events …. In short, everything that has to do with participatory process design.
  • The variety and large number of projects is helping to keep this pod together, as it makes us work together in a high rhythm
  • Doing this with a Minimal Viable Structure approach, we started setting the frame of the collaboration as the need arose. We had been working on the relationship among the four of us (the main foundation) and we had pulled each other in some projects, but we started giving shape to the team as enough work started coming in.

The first three points on this list have been there for a longer period of time, but having a high number of projects and making us do actual work together has definitely been a key condition for our experiment to happen.

Finally, I’d like to highlight some of our practices that give shape to our Tetrapod:

1. Rhythm and routines: we have two types of meetings:

  • Updates meeting — once a week 1h
  • Strategy meeting — once a week 1,5h

We’re meeting twice a week and make these meetings a priority.

As a team it’s necessary for us to have a process we stick to and to keep sensing what is needed at the moment: alignment chats, sense-making and discussion, or action? Too much of any of those could demotivate us in any of the two directions:

  • We’re only talking and not doing
  • We’re only on doing-mode without setting a common direction

2. A defined boundary:

This year we have had project collaborations with Theresa, Elena Denaro, Tan, Francesca, Kate, we mingled a bit with Damien and others and we hope to keep doing so. It’s our will to be open by sharing our projects with others, learning from each other and sharing this space we create among us. Nevertheless, the Tetrapod is, by now, the four of us.

We’ve had discussions on including other members in our routines, we’ve tried a few times and we agree that it might be beneficial to keep doing so in the future.

Nevertheless, the trust, alignment and will to create something bigger together need to be shared so that we all have, what Manel calls, skin in the game. The pod needs to be a high priority for all of us, if that’s not the case it’s not possible to build something bigger, so that boundary is a crucial element to make it work.

3. A sense of shared vision

I say a “sense” because it’s way too early for us to define that vision, but we have a sense that we want to achieve something in common. We love our community building, self-management, participatory design and other types of work. But we also agree that this work makes sense to us in relation to the global conversations that are shaping our times. It’s about fostering communities to the core of our future society, about fostering self-managed practices as a way to allow human beings to develop fully, to connect with themselves and each other and through that to connect to a more sustainable way of working and living. I link our work with Otto Scharmer’s concept of Democratising Access to Transformation Literacy.

Snapshot from the Fields of Future Blogpost “Innovations in Infrastructure” (Presencing Institute)

That’s what we want to foster through the projects we work on and us, as a team, want to foster a new (not-so-new) way of being together as a team, we want to be a part of the movement of people that come together to co-create more humane futures of work.

On this note, one of our colleagues, Albert, recently published a new book that dives into the new Work Paradigm including the effects of the current Covid crisis, which, he points out, is accelerating the trends that were already there, both the opportunities and the threats. He points to a few characteristics of the current situation: short-term employment, power-force externalisation, artificial intelligence (…), but also the ecosystemic collaboration that has been necessary for many organisations to overcome the challenges of this crisis; reminding ourselves how helpful and crucial our social security systems in Europe have been; how the individualistic socio-economic system we live in has brought us here and the way out is through the collective. He provokes our thinking by asking the readers how to design models of the futureS of work we want to go back to? Our Tetrapod is our experiment to this question: a team of four with no own formal structure, this makes us very light and flexible; with high trust among each other. All three elements are possible because we’re not alone, we’re a Tetrapod in an ecosystem of collaborative networks: embedded in Ouishare, collaborating mainly with Greaterthan and the Work Transformation Collective.

We have big dreams of mutualising income, measuring impact, of supporting each other more deeply and we’re aware we’re just getting started in our journey, we still have a lot of learnings ahead of us. How will we know if the pod works?

We want to create abundance for ourselves and the ecosystem we are in and, above all, we will know it’s right if it feels like these past few months: even with high pressure and a lot of work, our routines have been a high priority, the meetings felt grounding, we laughed a lot and left our meetings with more energy than the one we got in with.

To be continued…

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