I hope you enjoy this talk from Responsive Conference 2016 with former Navy SEAL and New York Times best-selling author Chris Fussell (@fussellchris) alongside Rachel Mendelowitz (@rachelowitz) as they discuss “Team of Teams” and new ways of organizing companies of the future.
Alongside General Stan McChrystal, Chris runs the McChrystal Group – an organizational design consultancy that works with companies all over the world to do in industry what Stan, Chris and the US Military did during the Iraq War. In the book Teams of Teams, Stanley McChrystal and Chris outline how they took the special operations branch of the US Military – a stereotypically bureaucratic organization – and transformed it into a adaptive, agile system.
This video was recorded at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in 2016.
This video was recorded live at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in 2016. Come see Adam Pisoni live again this year at the 3rd Annual Responsive Conference on September 24 and 25, 2018 in Queens, New York.
Adam Pisoni (@adampisoni) co-founded Yammer (which sold to Microsoft for 1.2 billion dollars). He recounts how he learned about about Conway’s law. “At Yammer, we believed in rapid product iteration. Once we realized the organizational structure was part of the product, we then had to believe in rapid organization iteration.” The engineering mantra at Yammer became: “We’re not smarter than other people. We just iterate faster.”
This insight led Adam to recognize that he and the engineering and product teams at Yammer were not just building a product but building a company (at least, if they were going to be effective). He began to investigate what it would mean not just to rapidly iterate on Yammer’s product but to iterate the organization’s structure itself.
In other words, he began to explore whether Yammer could become more Responsive. What Adam was clear on, was that their product didn’t exist in isolation. Yammer, as a communication platform for enterprise businesses, was particularly well placed to recognize the challenges of the current working world. Eventually, Adam put these thoughts into a manifesto and shared them with CEOs and C-level executives. The response was an enthusiastic affirmation of their ideas. The result of this thinking led Adam to co-found the Responsive Org movement.
Experiments in Education
Adam realized the education system in North America is largely still reliant on an assembly-model way of teaching and thinking. Consider the structure of most schools: there are grades, segregated by age; there are alarm bells which tell students when to move from one classroom to the next. The most common form of learning is to passively sit and absorb lectured lessons.
More subtly, subjects are taught according to a linear progression. Math education in the United States, for example, moves from algebra, to geometry, to advanced algebra, to precalculus, to calculus. This progression to trains students to think about math in a way that only entrenches a hierarchical, linear view of how to how the world works. School in the 21st Century is still designed to produce people to work in factories.
Adam was bold enough to tackle revitalizing the education system, by optimizing administrators’ time and budgets. He founded Abl Schools, a collaborative platform for administrators and teachers. Abl has re-envisioned how principals relate with their teachers and facilities and how schools use their time. The idea is to help schools better manage the day-to-day to be able to achieve its educational goals, starting with the company’s first product, a cloud-based master scheduler.
Exciting possibilities emerge when we reconsider even behemoth institutions like the U.S. education system and experiment with new approaches that leverage technology and new models of collaborating. What is necessary, is the willingness to experiment.
A Diverse Founding Team
Adam Pisoni has been open about the challenges of creating diversity in founding his company Abl Schools. He writes:
“If your founding team is homogenous, it will likely develop a narrow culture which is well suited for that narrow group of people. That culture won’t be as self-aware of the lack of inclusion in the culture, but it will feel inclusive for everyone within the tight knit founding team. As new employees with different backgrounds join, they will be more likely to reject or be rejected from the culture than to add to it. While you may be celebrating how strong a culture and tight a team you have, you may also be unaware of the ways you’re actually reminding that new employee that they don’t belong.”
While there is a lot of conversation about fostering an inclusive company culture, very few Silicon Valley companies have an equal gender split between male and female employees, and even fewer have women or underrepresented groups at the highest levels of leadership.
As Adam explains, this doesn’t actually mean teams of straight white men can’t produce great companies. He argues: “I believe diverse founding teams can produce better outcomes. A team of white men can come up with good ideas. But I believe a diverse team can come up with better ones.” The curiosity and perseverance Adam has demonstrated at Abl Schools is an example of what can be done in any number of genres by founders just starting out.
If you enjoyed this episode of the Robin Zander Show, you might also enjoy hearing me and Adam in conversation, recorded at the Responsive book launch party last November.
At Responsive Conference 2018, Adam will be joined onstage by Anthony Kim (Founder, Education Elements) to dive deeply into the problems facing our current educational practices, and what can be done to improve them.
Adam Rosendahl (@Adam_Rosendahl) is the founder of the global creative events company LATE NITE ART. Adam and I reconnected at last year’s Design for Dance conference, but as it turns out also went the middle school and played soccer together as kids. In the decades since Adam has been a high school teacher, volunteered with a homeless shelter, and led Outward Bound trips which are leadership with at risk youth in the Mississippi bayou.
Along the way, Adam began leading creative, collaborative pop-up events, and now runs the company LATE NITE ART, which creates creative, collaborative, stylish and also playful events for corporate audiences. Adam details whatLATE NITE ART is and how it works early on in the interview.
Sam Aquillano (@samaquillano) is a creative entrepreneur who is bringing new life to what we think of when we talk about museums. Sam is the Founder and Executive Director of Design Museum Foundation, which is challenging norms by bringing his museum to where people already are. Currently located in Boston, Portland, and San Francisco, Design Museum acts like a pop-up retail shop hosting events and programs that are widely accessible to the public.
Amy Cueva (@AmyCueva) believes that design can improve the human condition. It was with that mission and vision that she co-founded Mad*Pow in 2000 and has built an award-winning design and digital agency which serves industries from health to financial services and beyond.
But quite apart from having spend the last 15 years building her company Mad*Pow, Amy lives in a wide variety of different spheres, including sidelining as a belly dance performer and constantly exploring new avenues to positively impact human health. Amy spoke about this diverse mix of careers, projects, and hobbies at the 2015 Design for Dance conference.