How We’re Trying to Make Our Agency Self Managing

by | Jul 7, 2020

Sarah Pettinger, COO at Omobono, an agency who help brands to become more desirable to those who buy from them, and also those who they work with. With over 100 members of staff, the agency is spread across three worldwide offices. Sarah details her relationship with Mackenzie Fogleson, Founder of Genuinely, an organisation who mentors companies into building better versions of themselves, and how Mac helped to transform Omobono.

Sarah describes that since working with Mac, Omobono now works based on a defined set list of principles, including:

  • ‘Small Moves over Big Moves’
  • ‘Progress over Perfection’
  • ‘Open over Closed’

Sarah describes the problems she started to see in Omobono prior to deciding to work with Mac. ‘We were a company of really good people, but it felt increasingly like we were constrained by processes that didn’t work. We had incredibly smart people, and yet through our processes we had taught them to be helpless in how they worked.’

When discussing her own personal feelings, Sarah suggested, ‘a lot of my unhappiness came from feeling the guilt of not having kept the company in the best shape it could have been in. It felt much harder and heavier than it should have felt.’

Sarah then came together with her management team to discuss the issues they were experiencing, and quickly realised the rest of the executive team was feeling the same way.

When Sarah first interacted with and discussed the situation with Mac, she learned all about the idea of ‘Teal Organisations’. Mac enlightened the Omobono team to the ideas of Frederick Laloux who notes, a teal organisation is one ‘where there is self-management and where there is an evolving purpose that the organisation owns and shapes over time’. Initially Sarah and her team felt that this would be an easy switch until Mac explained just how hard this would be.

Mac explains, ‘it is a lot about dropping the costumes, that as company we think we should be wearing. It is easy to see what other companies are wearing and what they are doing from the outside and think that is what you and your agency need to be doing. But it is more important to work out what you as a company want’.

‘In the beginning of the process with Omobono there was a lot of teaching about complexity as a concept, and how in complex systems like agencies, there is little to no predictability. Things move and change all of the time. By trying to control something that does not want to be controlled, we will find it getting more and more difficult to manage.’

Sarah admits that ‘there was no plan when we started out. Instead, as an executive team, we all talked openly and laid bare everything that we thought about the company’.

When describing the process of transformation, Mac explains that it is important to give ‘people in your organisation the tools they need to be able to shift their individual and collective, mindset. If you always work within rules and processes your employees will always feel like they are in a prison’.

Sarah noted that ‘Mac introduced us to a set of guiding principles such as ‘open over closed’, we work openly on Trello boards for everyone to see. ‘Small moves over big moves’ and ‘progress over perfection’, all with the intention of shifting that mindset. ‘There are lots of small steps to get to an outcome, which means people aren’t as scared to put their neck on the line.’

‘You can’t expect people to know how to be honest with eachother, or how to communicate well, you have to team these tools.’

Moving into the future, Sarah explains that ‘almost none of our conversations happen via email anymore, they instead happen via teams channels or meetings. That way you get faster responses, but also other people see it and can respond too; it is all out in the open.’

‘Within the company there are people who embrace this more than others. We haven’t forced it on anyone, we let people come to it. There is no other way to do this, than to just get in there and have it feel bad at first – because if it does then you’re going in the right way.

When asked where other agencies can start their own research into the self-managing organisational structure, Mac points to a few resources listed below.

Frerick Laloux, Reinventing Organisations (2014)

Brené Brown, Dare to Lead (2018)