The Future of Work

Three minutes with the Director of Reimaginaire.

As the Director of Reimaginaire, Lisa Gill works with forward thinking companies to co-create innovative organisational structures. After starting out at a learning and development agency – designing training programs for global organisations — she found herself increasingly enamoured with “more progressive ideas about self managing organisations, who were really committing to their ideas, rather than just ticking the boxes.”

Today, Lisa explores the mechanisms behind creating a great company culture, largely: *“is it structure, or is it mindset?” *(answer: it’s a bit of both). Part coach, part cultural anthropologist, she splits her time between meeting and observing inspiring businesses, reading a LOT of books, and facilitating meaningful and manageable change within organisations.

We sat down with Lisa in the hope of borrowing a little of her expertise, and luckily she was more than happy to share!

Can teams ever really manage themselves?

Lisa: A big turning point for me was going in to a company called Matt Black Systems, who manufacture parts for the aerospace industry in Bournemouth. They’re totally self managing, so every person in the company does everything, from sales to accounting, to designing, making and shipping the parts. They transitioned from a traditional company to this new way of working. The people there are so skilled and productive that the organisation is running exceptionally well and everyone I met was so happy and motivated because they had total autonomy. Seeing it in action was the first time I really got it and realised this can really work.

How can leaders empower their people?

Lisa: The word empowerment is very tricky. To me, it still implies that you’re doing something to someone. If you have to give back, you took too much. I’m interested in the idea that we’re naturally empowered and motivated anyway, so it’s just about creating the right conditions.

The most important thing is to avoid hypocrisy. Especially as leaders, we have blind spots to things, so no matter how empowering you think you are as a leader, sometimes you do things and you don’t realise the impact they’re having. Start by creating an environment where open discussions are genuinely welcomed.

The most progressive, solid companies I’ve visited are not afraid to address taboos and say the really tough things. So it’s not just putting your intention to be open into your values or on your company website, but really doing it. Everyone I’ve spoken to has said it’s the hardest thing to do, even if you’ve been doing it for years, but it’s the most important.

What is the best way to solicit feedback?

Lisa: You have to make it a habit. Performance-review wise, hearing the words “I have some feedback” triggers the same response in the brain as being physically threatened, that whole fight or flight thing. Language is really important. WD40 Company, for example, doesn’t use the word “mistake”. Instead, people have “learning moments” which I think is brilliant.

All established cultures have rituals, language and norms. If you can co-create these as a company in a positive way, you’re likely to do well.

What is a “fulfilling” work environment?

Lisa: Everyone is different. There are introverts and extroverts and everyone has different needs and personalities. But for me, a common theme is around having authority and ownership of things, and being a co-creator in some way. So whatever the structure is, there’s no one-size-fits-all. It’s just really important to feel like we’re in control of our own fate, and if you have that you are naturally motivated and far more likely to perform at an outstanding level.

Whether your organisation is traditional, hierarchical, flat or progressive, if you say you have values or behaviours and then undermine those, you destroy that ecosystem completely. Even if it’s just once or twice, you lose people’s trust. Whatever kind of organisation you are, be a healthy and conscious version of that.

Lisa recommends reading *The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures, by Henri Lipmanowic *and Keith McCandless, and checking out CharlieHR, so you can spend less time on admin, and more co-creating a workplace that you love!

CharlieHR is the HR software for small businesses. Building a company is hard, running one shouldn’t be. Find out more here.

Neo Sepulveda

Neo Sepulveda

Software engineer at CharlieHR 💻. I like climbing things quite a bit 🐒.

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