My first 100 days at Goodpatch

I cannot believe that it has already been 100 days since joining Goodpatch. It feels like yesterday that I found my welcome package with my new Mac on the desk and logged in for the first time. Time to reflect on my time so far and the things that I have learned:

Insight #1: To work well remotely, meet in person first

When joining Goodpatch, I decided to move from my home near Frankfurt to Berlin for my first three months. I wanted to spend time with the team and get to know everybody. Having spent the previous 18 months in home office full-time, it felt strange at first to go to an office again.

However, that quickly changed. I enjoyed the walks from my apartment in Kreuzberg to the office. The coffee from our amazing machine is just on a different level and picks you up in the morning.

But most of all, it was nice to have the team around me.

I almost forgot the buzz of having your colleagues around. Going for lunch together and speak about something completely different than work. Hearing others talk in the kitchen about a topic that also interests you. Being able to just ask something across the desks without having to schedule a short catch-up or ask via Slack whether they are free.

I made it a point to meet every team member and get to know everybody personally. We talked about where we come from, the hobbies we have, our goals, hopes, and wishes - or anything else that we are passionate about. These interactions matter to me as they brought me closer and allowed me to meet the person behind the job.

I am still a fan of having the option to work from home (especially since I am based near Frankfurt), but it makes a huge difference to meet your team in person first. It is much easier to make a connection and it feels a lot more natural to have an "off work" conversation now that we have met. And it is important to keep nurturing that connection, so I will make it a habit of spending time in the office each month.

Insight #2: Trust the design process

One of the first things I learned during the talks with the team: our 20% policy seemed broken. At Goodpatch, we do 80% client work and spend the remaining time on our team routines and working on internal Goodpatch projects. At least that was the theory. However, the team told me that often there is just no time for internal topics, that it was not clear who the owner was or that there was little information on what was being worked on.

In situations like this, it is easy to fall into the trap of jumping to solutions like “we need status meetings” or “we need task tracking”. Instead, I wanted to understand the root cause and involve the team in the solution. So I decided to take this topic to our annual offsite and apply our design thinking framework.

Three teams tackled different aspects, and we dove into the problem space to work out where the issues were. We then turned this around and brainstormed solutions to the problems we identified. How might we ensure high levels of ownership? How might we ensure we focus on topics with the highest impact? And how might we make it transparent what the progress is and who is driving the project?

Each team filled out a short idea napkin and pitched to the rest of the group. The ideas sparked an open and honest conversation about how we want to work together, and we started to see how the ideas merged into one:

We realized that one of our strength is how we organize client projects. We appoint a lead, agree on deliverables and timelines beforehand, schedule project time, have a Notion page for documentation, and communicate with the client proactively. What if Goodpatch also became a client and we applied the same logic?

Born was our new Internal Project approach. Anything that takes longer than 8 hours in total is set up as an Internal Project. This allows us to make a conscious decision to work on it, decide on a project lead, and schedule time.

In hindsight, the solution seems obvious, but it never is at the beginning. Design Thinking helped us understand our problems better so we could come up with (much) better solutions. And since everybody on the team was part of the process, we all bought into our solution. And the first internal project already showed results: our Greenathon - our format to identify sustainability impact areas, validate planet-positive products/services, and define planet-centric businesses.

Insight #3: A self-organisation is always in "beta"

At Goodpatch Europe, we embrace self-organisation as our “Operating System” or “OS”. In practice, this means that our hierarchy is incredibly flat without formal team leads or a management layer. Instead, we are organised in Circles: Design, Strategist, Developers, Opportunity, and Backoffice. Each circle sets its own goal, manages its budget, and elects its representative who ensures communication with other Circles.

Across Circles, we have a format called the “Hot Potato” for making major decisions. Anybody with a blocker or tension can propose a solution, gather feedback from the people affected, and check for objections. The proposal is automatically accepted in the absence of any (valid) objections. This way, decisions are transparent and can be taken quickly while ensuring everybody is heard and has an opportunity to shape the proposal.

This work style was new to me, and I certainly see many benefits. In a complex work environment, it is not realistic that a few people “up top” have all the information and evaluate all implications of a decision. Rather, you want to rely on our organisational antennas everywhere and enable everybody to propose good actions. Furthermore, this system requires everybody to be transparent in their decisions and actions.

However, I have also realized that self-organisation is certainly not without its drawbacks. Without a management layer, you need to rely on processes to communicate, decide and take decisions. Those processes are a time investment as sometimes the whole team is in a meeting together (e.g. in our Monday All-Hands meeting). Also, you don’t always get the process right the first time around, and you need to experiment with a few formats. In the absence of managers, some people might miss out on guidance or personal development. We're experimenting with a buddy system to help people get advice when needed.

Finally, high levels of transparency also mean exposing some of the managerial “messiness” to everybody. This is particularly obvious when things are not clear-cut or complex, e.g. evaluating performances or salary raises. We are still working on the process here, and I look forward to what the future brings.

For us at Goodpatch, I think having a self-organised OS plays to our design mindset. We know that complex problems cannot be solved with a “master plan”. Instead, we embrace empathy, user feedback, experiments and iterations. It might mean a few bumps in the road when some experiments fail, but ultimately we will learn from it and make us a better organisation that reflects our shared values.

And this is just the beginning

For me, the first 100 days with Goodpatch have been exciting. I am learning about a new industry and new ways how to collaborate. I value the “design mindset”, our willingness to try new things, and the transparency we live around how we do things. This approach helps us to move forward as an organisation and we embrace it externally as well. With this blog article we want to share some insights we learned in our experiments. If remote work or self-organisation is something you also experiment with, I am interested to learn about it. Just drop me a line or meet me for a virtual coffee.

Written by

Thomas Elm

Author

Thomas Elm

Topic

Work Culture

Reading

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