Rob Galanakis’s post about Spotify’s DNA of Autonomy and Collaboration, which I’ve read only minutes ago, has compelled me to say something right here and now: He’s hit the nail on the head. His post is very brief and worth reading, so I won’t quote from it directly here, but he very clearly and correctly asserts that what has apparently made Spotify’s agile practices successful hasn’t been the practices themselves, but the organizational structure that values autonomy and collaboration.
Well, I’ll be damned: In so few well-chosen words, that’s exactly what I was digging at when writing all my lengthy historical posts about my Grouplet exploits at Google, without actually hitting my shovel directly against the treasure chest. We did some wild things that had a huge impact, but the point is, up until the last year or so that I was at Google, I felt there was much more of a sense that autonomy and collaboration was valued throughout the company, and the Grouplets thrived within that environment. I’ve been careful to assert that no one thing we did was a silver bullet, and might not even be slightly repeatable at other companies; and I’d hinted at the freedom we’d enjoyed at the time to experiment and find the best ways to persuade our fellow engineers—but it bears emphasizing, in light of Rob’s insight, that the most magical ingredient of all was the freedom to develop our own solutions to systemic engineering and cultural problems, and to do so in collaboration with our colleagues, without requiring managerial or executive approval for the most part.
I guess I only barely hinted at this in Leaving Google post. What a lost opportunity!
So the question becomes, what to do if you find yourself in a command-and-control organizational structure, where one enjoys less freedom to experiment and collaborate? It seems one’d have to find a way to break the chokehold of such a structure somehow before applying any other changes to the environment. Maybe those “in charge” are open-minded and willing to accept reasonable proposals to experiment, given sufficient evidence. Perhaps stories such as those from Spotify and from the Google Grouplets of yore might prove helpful in such an effort, by way of providing examples of the amazing things people can do to solve tough problems when just given the opportunity to try. Or, if such entreaties fall on deaf ears, you could try to influence at least your own small corner of the universe, flying under the radar, in the hopes that your ideas eventually catch on. Or, as a nuclear option, you could just quit, and either seek or create a more suitable environment for yourself somewhere else.
Or you could accept things as they are. Though I understand people have different backgrounds and situations and skills and responsibilities and yada yada blah blah woof woof, ultimately acceptance of and submission to the status quo is a choice. If you can live with that choice, I guess there’s no shame in that, and lot of security. But change—substantial, lasting, meaningful change—involves risk. There’s no way around that.