Organizational Ecology

I want to riff off a post that a colleague, Phil Kirschner, made this week on LinkedIn about org health. The post came from the viewpoint of an org’s sustainable competitive advantage based on their perspective and support of fully remote teams. He references a refreshed version of McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index (OHI) which I will link at the bottom of the article. More specifically, he cites GitLab as a glowing example.

In February of 2021, I enrolled in one of the first educational certifications on remote work, “How to Manage a Remote Team” from GitLab. That’s where I was introduced to two thought leaders in the space, Darren Murph and JJ Reeder - both of whom I now have the distinct pleasure of calling friends. Their work in the field is exemplary. The topic was so engaging and innovative, that I decided to seek certification as a TeamOps practitioner. This article isn’t about remote work though - this article is about the unintended consequence of my exposure behind the curtain at GitLab.

The Repository Process as a Function of Health

A Git repository is like a super-powered folder for a project that tracks all the changes we make to the files inside. Imagine it as a magical diary that records every edit, addition, or deletion we do, allowing us to go back in time to any version of our project. It’s a tool that helps teams work together without messing up each other’s work. It logs history, preserves data, and acts as an accountability partner in a real-time, active way. It allows us to be human, to iterate, to err, and to adapt along the way.

That exposure changed my perspective from where we do our work to how we do our work….and shifted our company into a deep awareness and understanding of these systems. For us, it was our pivot to Microsoft Azure and the architecture and design of the future organizational structure that told us we were on the right path. This shifted our perspective from traditional OKR via KPI thinking into a far more biophilic, human-centric design pattern. Suddenly, we saw the workplace as a natural ecosystem, supported by existing systems and signals. After all, workplace issues are largely people problems and the organizations we work for should be viewed as breathing, growing, natural systems.

But they’re not.

Post-Industrialism is giving way to globalism, but its grip is strong. Rooted deep in industrial design, organizations were built heavily on functionality and appearance. Military structure influenced just about everything after World War II. Standardization, efficiency, discipline, and strict supervision over the division of labor became commonplace. Generational leadership has hung on to some of these principles, partly because of familiarity and partly out of respect. When you’re trying to tune a factory, who better to do it than a team of mechanics and engineers?

The workplace as a factory.

Cogs and widgets play a huge role in global economics. Measuring production efficiencies is crucial, but it begs the question; “When do the economists use these tools, formulas, and programs to measure us….the humans?” Tuning up humans requires more than grease, proximity, and Six Sigma experts. As my LLM puts it, “Undergoing a transformation in self-perception from a factory-like identity, characterized by rigid process and outputs, to embracing the notion of being a living structure, where growth, adaptability, and interconnectedness define one’s essence.”

Future Orgs.

Post-pandemic orgs are mission-driven. They’re starting with a blank canvas in a new, global economy. They don’t have to worry about modernizing systems. They can hire based on people-first principles. Many are AI-native, which will allow them to automate workflows. This enables them to focus on digital transformation, emerging work models, supply chain resilience, wellbeing, and sustainable, environmental practices. But that doesn’t mean their traditional counterparts can’t shift as well. It starts with a clear perspective from leadership. At Orion, we’re calling that Ecological Outcome Verification rather than Objectives and Key Results. No disrespect, of course, to the bean counters.

After all, yield is yield, and we all have to eat.


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