Leading and managing are done differently at Outlandish from how they are done in a traditional, hierarchical organisation. Outlandish has a circle-based structure, and makes decisions using consent, but the differences go beyond that.

The first new idea is that being successful at leading and managing really means being yourself – there’s no right way to be. We are all different and we all have unique ways to contribute. That means that learning to lead and manage means learning to be really honest – or congruent. And it means iterating and getting it wrong as much as we get it right.

This, I think, is a lifelong process!

The second idea is that everybody at Outlandish leads and everybody manages. That means everyone takes responsibility for making sure they understand – and helps generate – the direction in which the company is heading. Everyone also helps create that future by proactively taking action that they believe will move themselves and the cooperative forward positively.

At the same time, everyone tries to pay attention to what other people are doing, to be empathic (by putting oneself in another’s shoes) and to be respectful of everyone else’s right to learn, and make mistakes (in other words, their right to be human). Everybody supports other people, whatever their role or position.

Obviously, this process is rarely smooth, so everyone is always testing – taking action – and reflecting.

Outlandish’s Sociocratic processes for decision-making support this, but obviously a lot of work happens outside formal meetings too. It requires time and energy to be aware and notice what is going on.

Especially of how people talk to each other.

The third idea is that leading and managing is not about getting people to do stuff. It is not about delegating, controlling or dominating other people.

It is not about changing people or shaping them, or even ’empowering’ them. People – and groups – grow naturally. So managing and leading at Outlandish is about engaging with and supporting other people as they grow and develop, when they want to, and at their own pace.

This often means coaching and facilitating, which again really means a focus on listening and talking together. And it often means getting out of the way!

Sometimes it also means helping people find out what they are good at, and supporting them as they become even better at it. This means sending opportunities their way, and it means helping them identify and remove obstacles.

But it always means leaving people with the power to lead – never taking it away.

Leading and managing means developing yourself!

All this means that an important activity at Outlandish is developing yourself. This is why Outlandish have Personal and Team OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), which help people as they grow and develop, by recording direction and aims. Differently from many organisations, these belong to the individual, or the team, not a manager. Each individual or team shapes and owns their and there’s no need to ask for permission, unless what people want will negatively affect others!

But developing yourself isn’t just about the formal processes, it is about noticing – everything that is going on internally (‘ego struggles’) and externally (‘power struggles’).

Also central to developing yourself is learning to enquire and explore. You can enquire in three ways:

  • into yourself, into your own character, or feelings, for example;
  • into what those around you want, and are like;
  • into the context around us, including power.

Enquiry is at least as useful as the more common way we understand leading, which is often understood as ‘advocating’ – holding a position and trying to persuade others of its merits. Leading by telling!

Developing yourself does mean learning to be part of the conversation, and communicating clearly, about what we think and feel. It is particularly important to work out what we want and need, and learn to communicate it, by, for example, making clear proposals. While creating space for others to say what they want to say too. 

Of course, in a business it is also important to create structures, and processes, and roles, and policies and procedures. At Outlandish many of these, including how we make decisions, are decided and enacted collectively.

This is helped by high levels of transparency, which make it possible for everyone to have an overview – of finance, projects or whatever. People use this knowledge, and their own unique perspective on it, to help everyone work well as individuals, and as a group.

By the way, all of the above is only an ‘ideal’ – any organisation can only ever approach it, and never permanently achieve it. People do it by trying to engage in conversations honestly, respectfully and empathically, and we can’t guarantee the outcome. Ultimately leading means trying to deal with the many paradoxes and frailties of life, in the moment, and in practical ways.

Through conversation we keep trying to make pragmatic and positive decisions in the absence of good data, and even of good solutions.

And we keep reflecting on progress. Learning to lead is learning to learn!