“The Responsive Organization is a movement of people who want to help their organizations become more responsive to a world that is very different to that of the Industrial Age.” Matthew Partovi

Many times you wanted to make a change at work, but uncertainties and self-doubts came in their way. You became very scared of the negative implications of the change (e.g. “I might lose my job”, “I might find enemies,” etc.) and you ended up believing that “it might be better if everything remains the same.” Yet, there was something inside yourself that keeps on saying: “something has to change, to improve, to make it better. What should I be doing?”

The Responsive Organization unconference was a great opportunity to reflect on the nature of change and innovation at work with 150 like-minded people. Together attendees explored what the future of organisational life looks like.

What is different about this event is that it is not a forum for official presentations. Instead, it is self-organised through the open space approach to meetings. Beginning without any formal agenda, participants could decide the topics to discuss. Nearly 40 sessions were created around topics such as the role of leadership, accountability, failure, new ways of thinking, creating a new movement, belonging, the future of a catalyst to change, responsive fun and much more.

Perhaps there is a lack of collective responsibility

“Change starts with me saying: “I believe in something. I have an opportunity to make a difference”” – Jonathan Anthony

During a session around making sense of our own thoughts, Change Agent Worldwide‘s member Jonathan Anthony, sent a message that resonated the most around the table: we should start using the word I more often. “Your thoughts are your thoughts and you have to validate them. If you invalidate them only because the people around you disagree, you are never going to change.”

This involves acknowledging, “I am responsible for my own thoughts.” It requires a new degree of accountability and responsibility for our individual ideas and experience of work as well as acceptance of being comfortable with ambiguity and continuous learning.

Instead of saying, “I have a new belief. How am I going to make everyone in the organisation to change” we should start telling ourselves “I have a new belief. What can I do about it?”

It is a personal discovery which involves embracing experimentation and failures as Anthony put it: “I have a thought, I am going to test it out, to iterate, to fail, to innovate. I am going to talk, to share, to work out loud.

“I see what happens, I learn new things, I move forward in my own journey while finding fellow travellers inside and outside the organisation. I build a network. And, every time time a reach a place where I have to make a new decision, then I will ask myself: “Am I in the right place? Am I effective? Is my purpose being met? Or do I need to find a new environment?”

To leave behind us old stories and go towards new exciting opportunities, we need be courageous and honest with ourselves first. Do I want to change the world? Well, today, I have the opportunity to change myself and the way I react to what is happening around me.

Responsible fun. Bringing art into work

Responsible fun was another theme of the day. In some respect, having fun at work seems to be more accepted today than it was in the past. Probably, this is reflective of a new way of thinking about our professional lives, a change in perspective where doing business and feeling enjoyment can and should meet each other. Plus, an emphasis on work-life balance to improve productivity.

It also acknowledges the power and impact that humour can have on our personal work experience. The key lesson from Jonathan Anthony which was taken up by many in the room: try to be your best self in everything you do. Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.

Other noteworthy conversations were around the whole concept of work as a form of art. Can we use art to express ourselves in a business context? Many workplaces are still uncomfortable with the idea. Yet, creativity can help us to stimulate new thought processes. There are many ways to achieve that including business cartoons. With that said, @gapingvoid‘s popular visualisations were given as a great example of engaging people in innovative ways.

The group seemed to agree that bringing art into work requires taking ownership of our personal values and see where they marry with the business values. Again, it is about taking ownership and challenging our own core assumptions.

Who is the performance management for?

A conversation around performance management couldn’t be missed in a Responsive Organization event. Moderated by Benjamin Ellis, the reality for many was that to innovate, organisations cannot rely anymore on the traditional annual performance review. Responsive businesses go beyond compliance and stretch their workforce’s goals.

As networked organisations grow, performance management systems are built around conversations. The emphasis here was on open communication and trust. Clear dialogue and transparency is key in helping employee to explore what success looks like. Plus, empowerment to find their own way to achieve better results. It is in this type of environments that people are more willing to put discretionary effort and go the extra mile.

An observation was made around the need to stop focusing on what has to be fixed and start looking on what (and how) could be done better. It is a subtle, yet substantial change of perspective that sees performance management not as a punishment session but a means for employees to grow and be the best they can be. It encourages action and a move forward.

It was noted how progressive organisations have started asking their employees to evaluate the health of the business. What do they think of the performance of the company? A good example is Google with their Project Oxygen, their radical performance system.

The conversation also covered social analytics as part of today’s metrics. The whole dilemma around quantifying quality appeared as one the biggest challenges. Is measuring behaviours on the social networks reflective of the competence and true performance of an individual? It was no surprise that there was not a clear answer and general agreement. The theme is such a delicate matter (and most probably at its infancy compared to what we will see in future) that it needs further and deeper exploration.


The collaborative atmosphere of the unconference was vital not just to the enjoyment and energy of the day but also to the quality of the conversations. The event excelled precisely because of its multiplicity of views. While the group did not come up with all the answers, it has certainly developed a fierce desire to find them and with gusto. Why? Well, because as Matthew Partovi put it, there is a clear need “to accelerate the shift from hierarchy to networks, to enable businesses to become more responsive through experimentation, autonomy and transparency.”

Pictures two and four from The Responsive Organisation: A Framework for Changing How Your Organisation Works.

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate