During my first months working closely with Sketchfab's co-founders, I sometimes felt unsure about whether or not I needed their approval to do something. Given we are often operating in messy and uncertain contexts, I needed to find something to be able to seize opportunities for impact without direction or oversight.
Even in very innovative companies, it's sometimes hard to apply this pioneering mindset also on organizational topics.
I'm amazed by the simplicity and actionability of the concept of “workable solution”, as defined and used in Holacracy's Governance Meeting process.
Steve Blank recalls that organizational debt can actually kill a company even quicker than technical debt. Things could turn into a nightmare when the company suddenly grows, if it didn't take some time to think about it in advance. So it's all about understanding how to recognize and “refactor” organizational debt.
He suggested a few things startups could do. I'm completing and presenting them a bit differently here, inspired by a vision of organizations closer to independent living systems than machines, and the OS Canvas from The Ready.
Over the past months, I ran into other interesting resources, feeding my journey of unfolding towards a more complex worldview, and its translation in the workplace. I have been naturally keeping track of these readings for a while, but figured it could be smart to share them here as well – as always, for my current and future teammates to better understand what I am going through.
Also running into something helpful? Please let me know!
A couple years ago, I was recommended to take a look at Reinventing Organizations, a fabulous study from Frederic Laloux. I read it when I joined Sketchfab, understood how important it could be in my life, and bought two copies, one for each bookshelf of our two offices.
Since then, I had the chance to observe Sketchfab's dynamics and act on its operations and organization design. Along the way, I figured I could leverage more Laloux's takeouts, and that I needed to carefully read it again.
This time around, I was amazed by how strongly it resonated with me, in light of my experience in this 30-people organization, which I like to see as a living system and organizational lab. With now some failures and bright initiatives behind me, and thus a bit more background in organization design than when I joined, as well as probably more personal courage than a few years ago, I'm committed to promoting practices and inspiring a culture that sees the world with more complexity, in the spirit of fostering true fulfilment of my teammates and the whole ecosystem around us.
Thus, I figured sharing a brief summary of Frederic Laloux's study of the different stages of human consciousness, and how it translates into organization models would help my current and next teammates, at Sketchfab or elsewhere, understand and accept there is an evolution in human consciousness, and hopefully plant the seeds to a more complex worldview and profound changes in the way we behave as a living system.
At Sketchfab, my job is to help the CEO and founders on everything organization related, to keep it smooth as it grows. My goal is to create the conditions for our organization to scale in a non-violent way. To get there, I believe in healthy team structures and psychological safety as basis for personal development and organizations performance.
Together with my colleague Sarah, I act as main point of contact, both for our U.S. and French entities, for our accountants, banks, lawyers, and providers. Internally, I supervise our People efforts, including recruiting and benefits, onboarding and personal development, team building and internal communication, and advise the founding team on organization listening and emergence.
As our team is still small, and before Sarah joined us in March 2019, I have been handling these roles by myself for more than two years. It's a lot of very small things you should not forget about, but it also requires to be able to step back and think about the organization and its dynamics as an independent living system.
Everything has been fine and gently scaled for more than a year, but a few months ago, I reached a point where I was swamped by those very small things. They were too much of a mental charge: “Did I pay this invoice?”, “Is there coffee left?”, “We haven't heard from this customer about payment in a while, right?”, “I should ask her to forward me this countersigned NDA”, “Ok, let's update the calendar as they are both off next week”, “What's this mail from the bank about again?”, “Time to plan the quarterly reviews of the team”, “I need to review the format of this goals slide today, and share the monthly metrics to our investors”, “Let's plan a little briefing with her on preparing a job description”, “Ah, and our remote teammates are going to Paris next month, correct?”...
I needed to take a deep breath and reorganize. So over a month, I paid extra attention to the way I was working and tried to find solutions to bring some attention and focus back in. Bottom line was the belief that focus wins.
Results came from better leveraging the simplest tools I was already using everyday: board, calendar, and inbox.
At Sketchfab and for a couple months, we were used to leverage Fridays late-afternoon to share best practices about personal and teams organization. Goal was to basically bounce ideas to work smarter.
Alban, co-founder & CEO, learnt a bunch of things during Sketchfab early days at Techstars. And he once shared with us a framework to help startup founders organize their time.
The idea is to evaluate how important and urgent each task is before diving in.
If it’s important and urgent, you should do it yourself on the spot.
If it’s important, but not urgent, do it, but later.
If it isn’t important but time sensitive, make sure someone else takes care of it shortly.
And if it’s neither important nor urgent, simply forget about it. Don’t do it.
It seems to me to be a very actionable way to move forward when things pile up. For founders, but also anyone else working in a fast-paced small team.
A group of MIT researchers looked at the age of successful U.S. entrepreneurs in the recent years.
Studying new businesses, narrowing it down to those with a high-tech startup profile, and including many more industries than just consumer-facing IT, they found that the average age of their founders, by the time they started their venture, was in the early forties. Not the young-graduate-wearing-hoodie profile we may have in mind.
They show that older entrepreneurs have a significant higher success-rate, and that professional background plays a critical role. “Relative to founders with no relevant experience, those with at least three years of prior work experience in the same narrow industry as their startup were 85% more likely to launch a highly successful startup.”
This actually bounces on a previous observation at one of Firstmark Capital event with their portfolio companies' founders and early employees. I was surprised to not see any founder in their early or even late twenties. All looked at least in their thirties, if not older.
Starting young can of course work just as well. But looks like there may not actually be a deadly countdown to absolutely start our company before 30.