Building a Peer-Accountable Culture with Agile Methods

Photo of Geonetric's sales team attending their first Scrum standupIt’s been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We took our first step toward Agile in 2008 with our development team. We’ve taken hundreds of additional steps since then. But by 2013, we felt like we had taken all of the easy steps we could take. The next steps looked tougher.

So we decided to take a big leap instead.

We did some soul searching. We did lots of reading. We were particularly inspired by companies that have destroyed the boundaries of traditional management thinking. Valve Software’s employee handbook drew a picture (literally!) of how far you can go. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, has a renowned 126-slide presentation on culture that challenged us to really think about what’s most important to us as a company. Steve Denning’s writings had us questioning things we thought were sacred. The Agile movement as a whole, especially Richard Lawrence and Joe Justice who came to Iowa last fall for our company-wide Agile Boot Camp helped get us ready to rethink everything.

And so, on January 9th, we jumped:

  • We flattened the org chart. We went to an entirely flat organizational structure, to clear the way for smart people to do what they do best. There are no managers at Geonetric anymore. Everyone is on a self-organizing team, focused solely on how to best deliver value to our clients as quickly as possible.
  • We ditched traditional departments. There are no departments either: almost every team is now cross disciplinary, or soon will be, and can respond to client or marketplace needs without departmental relays or hand-offs.
  • We’re getting radically transparent. We already share a lot more information internally (and externally!) than most companies do. But to make these changes possible we took an even bigger leap forward by sharing much deeper levels of financial, client satisfaction, and operational information with our teams.
  • We’re building a deeply peer-accountable culture. Team members commit to each other, and to their clients or prospects. They don’t need to be “held accountable” by a supervisor.

As a team, we’ve historically been very open to radical ideas and making big changes, but this one is particularly complex. We spent the last 10 years carefully constructing tidy organizational charts, lines of communication, thoughtful performance evaluations, methods for working that depend on departments, and detailed planning tools and systems to keep track of it all.

And on January 9th we pretty much abolished all of that. As a result we’re learning a lot – very, very quickly.

Perhaps the most radical aspect of all this is that we’re not hiding this learning process. No man behind the curtain here. We’re pulling the curtain back so you can see. The fact is there are very few companies that have taken Agile company-wide.

We’re ahead of the curve on this – certainly in our industry and in the state of Iowa – and since it’s an exciting story we intend to blog about it, warts and all.

So you’re invited to join us on the journey. Come along with 73 people who are excited to make changes. To get better. Get faster. Get smarter.

We hope you’ll learn alongside us.

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This entry was posted in Agile, Geonetric Culture by Eric Engelmann. Bookmark the permalink.
Eric Engelmann

About Eric Engelmann

Eric gets people excited. About healthcare. About technology. About Geonetric. It only takes a few moments of being in his presence to feel his passion and see his vision. A healthcare reform junkie, Eric can usually be found uncovering new ways to show healthcare executives how to leverage technology investments and develop patient portals that will improve care delivery. After earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Iowa, he began his career in technology, founding Geonetric and never looking back. Through his leadership, Geonetric continuously receives honors and recognitions, including being named a Best Place to Work by Modern Healthcare, Software Company of the Year by the Technology Association of Iowa, and an Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Company for five years running. When he’s not sharing his vision for the future of healthcare or accepting awards on behalf of his company, he can be found having lunch with his daughter at a local elementary school or donning lederhosen and entertaining his team at the Annual Engelmann Oktoberfest.

2 thoughts on “Building a Peer-Accountable Culture with Agile Methods

  1. Pingback: Intro to Agile Beyond Software |

  2. I think this is amazing, and Yes! I’d like to know how this all turns out over the long term. I hope the story of this transformation makes its way into white papers and books. I hope you give occasional guided tours of your office to the general public or agile practitioners, so that we can share the vision that being brought into reality.

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