Swisscom Directories AG faced the challenge of transforming already agile- with classically organized company parts to a large whole new agile organization. The transformation team went different path, namely a participative agile transformation with several large group events. The journey reached its first peak as the employees formed their own teams through self-selection. In this serie of blog posts we'd like to share the challenges we faced, our experiences and the results of our joint work in the agile transformation team at Swisscom Directories AG.

In this blog post we look at the 1st Big Room, where the new model was introduced and challenged with about 100 employees.

Back to the previous Article of the story: Self-selection @ Scale - What if the organization reorganizes itself (Part 1 - Introduction)

Initial position

As a result of the change in management, there was a great uncertainty among the employees at this time. A first event should be carried out as soon as possible. The transformation team started with it's organization. At this time it was still unclear how many events we would need and what should be worked out at which event. We opted for a rolling plan. We asked ourselves the question, how can we collect all the employees on so different knowledge levels the best way and also respect their history?

Preparation

Due to the very heterogeneous organization, we first decided to develop and challenge our new agile organization model of Sagas and Guilds with all stakeholders. For this, a common understanding, including rough frame conditions were necessary. We deliberately did not define those in detail, as we wanted to have this defined by the employees themselves.

The introduction of an agile portfolio management gave us focus and simplified the cooperation massively
— Isabelle Hen-Wollmarker, Head of Marketing, Audience and Strategy, Member of the Executive Board

At the same time, a separate stream developed the new vision and strategy of Localsearch. The transformation team also had corresponding representatives in this stream and influenced it e.g. by a new pattern for a strategic theme, that was newly a custom Business Model Canvas. This stream also highlighted the incredible number of more than 100 projects, that were currently in progress. As a result, the strategy stream set itself the goal of reducing this to the most important- and urgent themes for the first quarter of 2017 in a prioritized order.

1. Big Room - Challenging of the new model with an outlook on the strategic themes 2017

At the beginning of December 2016 it was time for the 1st event and we all from the transformation team were curious how the 100 participants would participate? -FYI: Our concerns turned out to be unfounded, the feedback was all positive.
In the first big room the transformation was perceptibly ushered in for everyone. With Stephan Santinelli, the CEO of Localsearch, we had the best possible keynote speaker and his message was clear: All previous structures and processes will be cancled and re-aligned towards the customer needs. After the keynote, Colin Griel, Head of Engineering and Product Owner of the transformation team, introduced the guild and saga model.

Colin Griel, Head of Engineering in Action, Source: Localsearch, 2017

In addition to solving professional and organizational questions through swarm intelligence, a big room also offers social integration and is thus much more effective than 100 meetings
— Mirko Kleiner, co-founder flowdays / lead Agile Coach at localsearch

Stefano was followed by representatives of the pilot organization, who talked about their own experiences with sagas and guilds from the field of the last 12 months. It was important, that they haven't only reported about the positive, but also about their challenges and learnings.

Mathias Vettiger, Product Owner in Action, Source: Localsearch, 2017

The presentations were held as lightning talks. So most of the time we invested in interactive breakout sessions. There the participants discussed e.g. in which guild they feel home today, what a guild means, etc. The intermediate results were discussed in the plenum and open questions about were played back to the transformation team. Interestingly, most of the questions were usually solved in the small groups already.

Inventory of existing guilds and peoples allocation via self-selection, source: Localsearch, 2017

We had mixed the small groups, so that there was a great diversity. Idea was to bring people together, some had already gained experience in the pilot organization and others heard for the first time about guilds / sagas. This allowed an exciting discourse with very different views and inputs. It also promoted social integration among the employees.

Definition of competences, responsibilities & tasks of a guild using self-selection, source: Localsearch, 2017

The second part of the first big room was to agree on the new vision and the upcoming strategic themes for Q1 / 2017. The management and the strategy stream liked to present there current status. The strategic themes were presented by the business owner using a marketplace, inputs were recorded and questions answered directly. This gave the employees a first idea of what they would be working at in the new year and so the new year was almost ushered in December. In a time characterized by uncertainty, this was seen as very positive sign by the people. In addition, another bridge was built between employees, business owners and top management.

Marketplace of strategic themes in the large group, source: Localsearch, 2017

Learnings

  • The fact, that the CEO was removing old structures, or how Vasco Da Gamma has burned his ships, can't be underestimated psychologically. This acted as a motivator to better accept the new, upcoming future.
  • It was an incredible advantage, that we haven't to imagine a theoretical model, but a model proven by the pilot organization. The honest lightning talks created a more tangible understanding of the model in practice.
  • The pilots allowed us to draw on their experiences and answer questions in the swarm by the swarm itself. Otherwise, the representatives from the transformation team would have been experts and thus would not have been on equal level with the employees.
  • Due to the fact that only a rough definition of the sagas / guilds, including a few basic conditions, was given by the transformation team, the participants were able to contribute their part of the solution. Thus, the model also became their solution.
  • To present the strategic themes in a participative approach was very effective and was appreciated by the employees. Now, there was full transparency and any hierarchical barriers were also decreasing.
  • Suboptimal was, that we had to leave the employees with a bad feeling apart, because of the upcoming Christmas holidays. The most important of all questions was still unanswered: Will I be needed in the future?

In the next episode

In the next blog post we'll share our experiences from the preparation and the execution of the 2nd Big Rooms, where we were forming of the guild- / saga teams via self-selection with all participants.

>> Forward to the next article of the story: Self-selection @ Scale - Forming the teams (Episode 3)

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