Two Paths to Trust

There are two paths to trust. The first is a path of ease, sameness and stability. The more sustainable path is the more challenging, the path of understanding.

In corporate life, I occasionally met a manager who had a team. Whatever role they took on, they brought with them the core of a team from their previous role. In some cases the managers and teams had been working together for years through multiple roles and organisations. What these teams gained in effectiveness through long relationships, they lost more in new ideas and inability to change their relationships.  In many cases the junior partners in these teams were being held back to burnish the glory of their bosses.

Trust with people who are the same as you is far easier. When you begin with little diversity in the team, there are fewer conflicts to iron out. The differences is worldview, style and approach are narrower. There are less likely to be shocks and patterns of decisions are easily implemented based on a shared history. Teams like these exist across the business world and they have advantages in the speed with which they come together. We are psychologically predisposed to recruit people just like us.

However, teams without diversity underperform. Study after study suggests that greater diversity improves team and organisational performance. One key reasons is because diversity gives rise to great bases for conflict. Ideas are less likely to be accepted. People challenge the applicability of patterns and history. There are more inputs available and people are more aware of the diversity of circumstances around their organisation. More time must be invested in debate and understanding. Better decisions result. Importantly, when team members are not just a mini me, their individual needs and potential can be considered.  Team members have the opportunity to realise their potential.

Creating high levels of trust in a diverse team is more challenging. It takes effort, conflicts and richer understanding of each individual.  Any team is better for that effort.

Community is in the Little Gestures

Every day we experience the little gestures of community: the train passenger who moves over to let you in, the barista who smiles and remembers you, the neighbour who waves or the helping hand from a stranger in a shopping centre .

Little gestures build community because they help us understand the role of generosity, sharing, individual recognition and relationships. Little gestures unwind the corporate, the general, the machine, the process and the impersonal transactions of our lives. These gestures create community because they are not required and because they signal an effort to create reciprocal value.

Little gestures are a practice. These gestures require us to be mindful of our networks and ask how we can create human relationships from them. Practices like working out loud that make us more purposeful and generous in our networks reinforce this practice.

Vibrant Groups

In the Office 365 Community, I was asked by Cai Kjaer of Swoop Analytics how we can identify groups in social collaboration tools that are thriving, struggling or dead. We are becoming increasingly aware of the value of great group and team structures to the success of collaboration in organisations. With that in mind, group health takes on a key role in the success of networks.

Here’s my response to Cai’s great question:

Because groups exist for diverse purposes it is hard to assess universally but here are a few reflections at each level of a group’s purpose. I haven’t mapped to your three levels but there is a mapping that is possible from the themes below. e.g. Dead is when it is not a group anymore and at the other end if it is Solving work problems it is clearly thriving.

Is it still a group (Connect)? Most basically does the group serve a purpose that continues to attract people? Are people joining, do they come and visit the group and is it not losing its membership? Groups can exist as a kind of social distribution list. These groups can remain dormant/passive for long periods of time but play an important role when they are needed. More importantly does it connect people who are not connected elsewhere?

Is it still sharing information (Share)? Is new information being shared in the group? Are there interactions on the information in the group (Likes/Shares/Replies)? Is there a core champion team creating an experience for others in the group? How diverse are the contributions to the group? Is it playing a role brokering information sharing between different parts of the broader network?

Is it doing work (Solve)? Do posts in the group get a timely response? Does the topic at the heart of the group animate people to do things? Is the activity drawing in a wider group of champions and also activating more interaction from all the members of the group? How does the group drive value for members and for the organisation? Does the group create a strong cluster within the wider network?

In my view this is a cascade. If groups aren’t moving up the maturity curve, then they are falling down. Attention is limited in large organisations. People move on to other things when they don’t create value for them and the organisation. The exception would be groups as previous referred that exist solely for option value (i.e. might be needed later such as a CEO briefing group or a YamJam group). These groups should be few and documented in the community management strategy.

What’s your view? What defines a vibrant group? How do we get early warning of issues with groups?


‘We are change itself. We often think of our life in terms of things changing: we like some changes and we don’t like others; we want things to change in some ways and not in other ways. And of course this moment of ongoing change is our opportunity for skilful, appropriate response to the circumstances that reveal themselves, the conditions that reveal themselves at this moment. And yet we are change itself.’ Elihu Genmyo Smith

Humans Change

No moment of a human life is without change. We learn. We grow. We work. We live. Every breath, action and reaction in our lives is a moment of change. We are constantly interpreting our circumstances, adapting and changing to achieve our purposes and to manage ourselves through a changing world.

The thousands of small adjustments we make each day are barely noticed. Larger ones rise to our consciousness as an explicit opportunity to learn or to adapt our approach.  Bigger still are obstacles that might challenge us to rethink our approach entirely or even set us back at the beginning of the change process again. Some of these we will see as frustrations but others we will approach as the test that gives energy to our purpose and our work.

If every individual is in a state of continuous transformation, the change in communities of people is a force of enormous potential.

Responsive Organisations Change

Because our traditional organisations were designed for the repeatable execution of a proven business model, we lost the natural and dynamic potential of this human change. We locked it away in processes, in policy, in hierarchy and in performance measures.

Organisations need to adapt as much if not more than people. Their existence is almost entirely driven by competition for resources, stakeholders and attention. They must deal with the scaled change and complexity of people internally and externally every day. However, our traditional model has been to ignore the mismatches as the environment changes and to stick to a fixed model until a hierarchical decision is made to make change. Organisations can drift a long way from their purpose and from effective execution before they see that need for change. The bigger the drift and the more stuck their system, the more wrenching the resulting change management is.

Responsive organisations distribute that change decision. Moving closer to the continuous adaptation of a human life, they recognise that organisations must learn, grow, work and change to continue to live and to continue to fulfil their purpose. Responsive Organisations explicitly challenge their people to focus on purpose, to learn through experimentation, and to leverage the adaptive potential of transparency and networks. Agile and adaptive change is a human exercise and a part of ensuring that our organisations remain relevant and effective in their systems.

The Sugar High

Life is full of potential sugar highs: your growing base of free users, unprofitable sales, improving your market share, an industry award, that amazingly emotional talk, the hilarious video, your first, hundredth and even millionth follower, an inspirational quote, laughs, status, money, attention and even power.

Sugar highs are best consumed as part of a balanced active & purposeful life. Sugar highs must be created responsibly. Without the rewards of helping others to fulfil their potential, sugar highs become a cycle of gorging and cravings in the hope of forestalling the inevitable crash. The long term measure of an experience is not just how it makes you feel now but also how it helps you to do the work that is your change in the world.

‘This Quotidian Act of Forgiveness’ Richard Roxburgh

‘This quotidian act of forgiveness’ Richard Roxburgh referring to twilight in the Namibian Desert. 

Quotidian – adjective ordinary or everyday especially when mundane.

In any journey of change, the past is a problem and the future is bright. Today sits between those extremes. 

Today is just mundane. Today is the hack work, the obstacles and the effort. There’s little glory possible today. Today it can feel like we are not worthy of the future. 

No other day exists to make change. We can’t engage with the past or the future. We can only work through the mundane day at hand, Today. Nobody else will do our work for us. Worthy or not, we have work to do today. 

Forgive the day for its lack of immediate reward. Dive into the work. Stack the the small achievements of each forgiven day upon another. Forgive yourself too and celebrate your achievement each day when done. 

We need daily forgiveness to stay sane as we quest for change. Remember the glorious future will feel as mundane as today because we will be on route somewhere better. 

Adaptation over Precision.

One of the consequences of scientific management is the view that if we could just specify everything exactly then we can achieve better and more efficient outcomes. We have seen this mindset play out in reengineering, continuous improvement, big data & now blockchain. The complexity of a globally connected world means that precision is not always the only answer. There is also a corollary of precision which is that it enables financial speculation. When precision leads to financial speculation as the cure all, it may be precisely the wrong answer.

Smart Contracts

As a former lawyer, I have been following the discussion of blockchain’s potential to deliver smart contracts with interest. There are plenty of opportunities to disrupt the practice of law and improve its efficiency.

However smart contracts are an engineering solution to the problems of legal agreement. Attributing inefficiency to uncertainty, blockchain smart contracts are specific lists of steps with self-executing value. Financial transactions are an example of where the basis of value exchange can usually be specifically identified and self-executing contracts may well replace the many standard agreements that underpin financial market transactions like ISDAs.

Not all agreements are better when the steps are precisely specified. Most legal agreements aren’t a value exchange. They are a risk exchange. One party specifies a desired outcome and the value attached and leaves the method of achieving that outcome mostly open. The purchaser allocates the risk of delivery for a fixed cost to the person who wants that risk and is usually better placed to manage changing circumstances. More specification usually gets in the way of efficient delivery because it prevents adaptation and the ability to leverage new information. Most legal disputes occur when the parties specified the wrong future scenarios or they began from diverging understandings of the outcomes.

Distributed Autonomous Organisations.

Currently there is a buzz about the idea of using blockchain to form and manage a Distributed Autonomous Organisation. Essentially people trade claims on the blockchain for units in the DAO. Those units come with voting rights and a share of the outcomes of the DAO. Examples so far look like cooperative investment funds not unlike historical mutuals.

The challenge ahead for DAOs is to step beyond the precision of financial transactions. Corporations manage uncertainty through agency. Self-executing value tied to precise actions needs an ability to be precise. How will DAOs adapt to changing circumstances and methods of execution? Intriguingly some of the non-financial discussions of DAOs are drawn back to financial speculation given the strength of our precision mindset and the financial speculation opportunities it presents.

Complexity not Precision.

The challenge for the future of work is to better manage complexity not deliver greater precision. We are in the early days of the blockchain revolution and more innovations will come. We need those innovations to move beyond precision and financial transactions to more complex domains of uncertainty, learning and risk allocation.


Human behaviour at scale can be daunting. Drive in any traffic and you will see people trying dangerously to get a personal advantage at the expense of others. Spend time in a crowded place and you will be pushed, passed and jostled as others seek to achieve their own goals at your expense. Crowds driven by transactional self-interest can be unruly and dangerous. Some organisations forget this as they seek to leverage self-interest for higher performance.

Surprisingly these moments are rarities in much of our life. These moments depend on anonymity and lack of community for self-interest to overcome the common consideration that underpins society. Only when community breaks down such as in failed states, war zones or pure market transactions, does this become the norm. Even in the worst of these crowds you will still see people letting others past, helping others and standing up for the rules of common decency. Anonymous transactional self-interest bends to consideration of human relationships.

I was reminded by Henry Mintzberg’s post on community & commons that our relationships are part of the shared commons of a community. Trust, consideration and thoughtfulness are all shared in community and used daily in our work and our relationships. Like any commons over-exploitation leads to depletion. To preserve the difference between anonymous transactions and relationships, we need the continued contributions of the considerate to restore the commons and show us the way.

Thank God It’s Friday

We can go into the weekend fulfilled.

We look back on a week that is a celebration of purpose and meaningful achievement to benefit others.

We know we cannot have done better this week and that our efforts were well directed to effectiveness.

We have enjoyed a week of the freedom to do the best work we can supported by our peers.

We can rest tonight comforted by the fact that all our work is up to date and the open issues are next week’s work.

We aren’t waiting for decisions and we have made all the decisions that we needed to resolve this week. 

We are excited about the opportunities to learn, to experiment, to create and grow next week.

We have the transparency of our performance, our peers’ performance and our organisation’s outcomes to be confident on what is ahead and ready for the new challenges that the next week will bring.

We know that our accountabilities are clear and that the culture of accountability means colleagues won’t send a flurry of last minute emails dumping problems on others.

Our week will finish with the thanks and congratulations of a team and an organisation that understands, respects and values our commitment and efforts.

We know this is not a dream. We know this is possible. We will make it happen. Thank God it is Friday.