How to become a learning organization with Celebration Grids

by Thomas Kuryura

As our organization grows and matures, we learn not to repeat the same mistakes twice… Ha! If only that were true.

Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world; in reality things work rather differently. Especially in agile companies where we are split into multidisciplinary teams, in which we create safe boundaries. Our teams are given responsibility over the product and we create further boundaries, as we expect the team to learn and grow.

Now here’s the problem.

When there are several teams (we have seven), an external observer will start to note some inefficiencies. Example: Team A had a problem six months ago and today Team B have a similar problem. Not exactly the same problem, because we live in a complex world, but similar.

If we had this scenario in a traditional management environment, we would be shouting at the top of our voice: “Coordination problem! We need to hire a coordinator to prevent this happening in the future!”

Another problem that we have been facing is how to address teams that evolve, learn or innovate insubstantially or not at all.

In both these situations the real problem is about perception. Traditional management sees the organization of seven teams as a big machine, which must be well oiled to perform satisfactorily. In this environment, the coordinator or his actions would act as the oil. If the machine doesn’t work properly, then a replacement gear (team or team member) or oil (coordinator) must be found.

Martie Management 3.0

In a Management 3.0 scenario, we see the organization differently. We see a living organism; complex, with smaller systems inside, which learn to connect (Jurgen Appelo, the author of Management 3.0, illustrates this through his monster Martie). As an organization that uses Management 3.0 techniques, we don’t see people as gears, oils or any part of a machine, whose only purpose is performance. We see people as part of a larger structure that need to learn and then perform better, as a consequence of the learning.

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At our company Just Digital, we have faced these two problems and we looked to solve them using a Management 3.0 practice called Celebration Grids.

We considered our teams as living entities, that should never stop learning and evolving. We wanted a practice that would give us a better insight into how much we learn through experiments. And with the information we knew we would also be able to address the “not evolving” problem.

We decided to run the celebration grids exercise on an event basis, when:

  • A project’s major release is made to the customer
  • When a customer compliments our work
  • When a customer criticizes our work

To address the “coordination” problem we decided to set up a public workshop using Celebration Grids, in which all teams took part. The team presenting shared the mistakes, good practices and experiments they had experienced. Importantly, they share what they learned with every action.

At the end of the workshop both the presenting team and participants appreciated taking part. Through Celebration Grids, they had identified failed actions – added to the ‘Mistakes’ column; successful actions, added to the ‘Best practices’ column actions, and ‘Experiments’ , which got added in the 50-50 category.

The big plus was that we got a whole lot of learning out of the session. One of our experiments resulted in a big leap in innovation for our company. We created a unique piece of technology: an open source software product to help other teams and our open source community.

We realised we had started out on our journey towards becoming a real learning organization, where the organization as a living organism can avoid mistakes, use best practices, and most importantly, experiment, learn, evolve and share.

“To share what we learned with other people is the first step to not only creating a learning team but a learning organization as well.”

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