CircleAnywhere as a Deliberately Developmental Organization... information & opening discussion on what that means

Jan 13, 2017

The following was a letter to the CA Staff from May 25, 2016; we decided we’d share it with the public because we find it very inspiring information on our hopes and challenges in running a company with Surrendered Management. Hope you enjoy.

Sean and I have been deeply inspired by a new book and body of research on Deliberately Developmental Organizations…

I think we’re already living many of these ideas even with the unique constraints we face:

  • not being physically present
  • being spread across 12 time zones or more
  • some of us only working one hour a week or less
  • not being on salary / working many other jobs
  • Etc.

I highly recommend and encourage you all to read this book. But since I know it takes time...

  1. I’ve tried to summarize how the ideas apply to CircleAnywhere. Let’s also consider how this impacts our larger CirclingEurope ecosystem, and our impact on how people communicate and see the world.
  2. Following that will be some ideas on how we’ll implement more of this stuff into our working together. I'd love your feedback on these.
  3. Finally I’ve shared some of my favorite quotes / notes from the book.

Why am I bothering?

It’s very important to me that we live by the principles we teach; that we organize our work together by these principles—the five principles, which point to love in action, fearlessly pursuing the truth, the embrace of surrendered leadership, honoring individual and collective power and dancing in the tension between them, etc. I think we’re doing a good job at this; I’m proud of the team for how well we support each other and how well this system functions autonomously and in connection.

And we can grow. To constantly learn and grow and embrace more of reality… I think our principles point here too.

So I want us to continue discussing and exploring these together as much as possible, and bringing in new points of view and sharing with each other. Don’t just accept my word, or the book’s—so we can strengthen what this actually means for us as a whole, and continuously improve on what we have. I don’t believe we’re ever done growing; I believe the mystery of being always reveals more to us in each new moment.



What is a Deliberately Developmental Organization (DDO)?

A DDO means that the human development of individuals is inseparable from the success of the organization. There is no difference between development, profit, and purpose. They’re all baked in together.

The essence of this process is giving and receiving feedback, particularly probing deeper into underlying beliefs that motivate our decisions and actions (and the corresponding community that holds this probing). We already do this well in Circling, and we can incorporate it more, especially in the actual work we do together.

A big part of this is doing “counter-instinctual moves” or “discontinuous departures” from the way businesses are normally run. This should also feel familiar—we’re already somewhere in between a business and a spiritual practice community so we have to do things quite differently—but we can be more explicit on what these are to better support a continuous growth cycle. For example, in DDOs mistakes are seen as a precious resource that we embrace to grow from, instead of something to hide away. The same with conflict. I want us to embrace these ever more fully.

Twelve Unique Features of a DDO

The Harvard researchers that put together these distinctions have worked in adult psychological development for forty + years, and the following information is based on observing how three highly successful companies work ‘in the wild’ (Traditional success—“The Economist credited Bridgewater with having made more money for its investors than any other hedge fund in history [it also the largest hedge fund in the world]. Decurion’s combined theaters have the highest gross per screen in North America. INC Magazine called Next Jump “the most successful company you’ve never heard of." (page 164)

So this is a theory based on careful observation of what seems to actually be working. They’ve noticed three general categories and tried to make it digestible with twelve feature—none of this categorizing is that important if you’re not into theory; and it can all be useful for finding places we can grow, areas we may not be paying that much attention to.

Developmental Practices (Groove):

  • Destabilization Can Be Constructive — This means being put just slightly “over our heads” so we’re forced to grow. This happens naturally in Circles; a simple way this can happen more in CA is that when we share the financial statements, we all think like entrepreneurs... how can we grow, how is it all interrelated and tied into our vision/purpose?
  • Closing the Gaps — btw plans & actions, btw ourselves & others, btw who we are at work (leading a Circle) & our “real selves,” btw what we say at the in private FB threads and what we say on Basecamp.
  • Timescale for Growth, Not Closure — The connection, appreciation and inquiry leads to more efficient and effective work, so we focus on underlying beliefs more than getting actions done or loops closed. “Go slow to go fast”
  • “Interior Life” Is Part of What Is Managed — This is just to say nothing trumps being human. Understanding that these interiors are as important and causative as the external realities is easy for us, but could be harder to explain to others who aren’t into Circling that we work with, or people new to our community, so it’s important to highlight and understand why we value this.

Developmental Communities (Home):

  • Rank Does Not Have Its Usual Privileges — Even though there still are hierarchies and power differentials (when you’re facilitating, you have more power than participants), everyone is open to feedback; rank doesn’t give leaders a free pass on the merit of their ideas, nor does it exempt them from the disagreement or friendly advice of those "lower down" or from the requirement to keep growing and changing to serve the needs of the business and themselves.
  • Everyone does people development — We’re all always improving ourselves and each other for the whole; this is not a privilege for the most trained; its a responsibility for everyone.
  • Everyone Needs a Crew — We need as much support as challenge.
  • Everyone Builds the Culture — We’re all continuously participating in improving not just ourselves and what we do, but how we do it and how we interact with each other—in and out of Circles.

Developmental Aspirations / Principles (Edge):

  • Adults Can Grow — The evolutionary impulse calling for greater complexity and elegance moves through us, and we either answer the call—and let ourselves and self-identity be remade—or we resist it and pretend to be static.
  • Weakness Is a Strength; Error Is an Opportunity — Our mistakes are our greatest treasure; let’s mine them and create something beautiful for all the world to see.
  • Running on Developmental Principles — These are the five principles for us; it’s imperative that we’re constantly engaging them and challenging them, encouraging each other to deepen into them, not just letting them stand.
  • The “Interdependent Bottom-Line” — Our survival and our purpose is as dependent on development as it is on financial success.

Specific Practices to Add

We already do many things just by Circling together; we already do some work-specific practices like the monthly "all hands" meetings, and giving each other feedback at the end of CircleAnywhere Circles. I don’t want to put too much extra work on people, especially unpaid; I think the following two new practices should be relatively high value from a developmental standpoint with little overhead:

  • “Hero Cards”—a dynamic system for us to publicly (amongst our team, not for the world to see) wrestle with our limitations and get support for growing. We’ll post these in Basecamp, starting with a self-analysis and summary of what we’re about; then we’ll get feedback from others to update the cards and people will start to share specifics as comments underneath as new episodes occur. These may grow later on to include forced ranking systems etc.; this is just a start. Here’s mine: (not public), and a quick list of some of the info you’d share. Name Archetype / Metaphor: Rely on:
  • Look out for:
  • Core issue:
  • Common Defenses:
  • Core competence:
  • Enneagram #:
  • Community issues log—A document on Basecamp that has certain themes that are coming up in our Circles and community. We can then comment on what’s shared and what’s not, and probe to see if there are any community-wide belief structures that we haven’t tested
    • This is to make sure we’re all clear on network-wide issues and a chance to take a social subjective reality and make it object—so we can work on and grow through it.
    • First draft: (not public)

I’d like to hear feedback on these ideas, and then send a separate message out this week to start implementing theme.

And I want to make sure everyone knows how to contribute to creating these kinds of system and world we’re dreaming of… to make it reality.

Specific Practices to Add

I want to create / reinforce the following aspects of our working culture ...

  • It is OK to make mistakes but unacceptable not to identify, analyze, and learn from them. Let’s love the mistakes. One of the CEOs of these companies says "worry about goals, not looking good.”
      • Why? In addition to everything said above, the more we practice this together, the more we’ll be showing up this way in our Circles—letting go of the need to be perfect and allowing more humanity through. And we’ll be simultaneously greater able to embrace and love the “failings" of others—the places they can’t love themselves—while more deeply understanding what drives them.

  • Probing / Penetration — getting to the underlying causes. We're assuming that presenting “problems" are symptoms of a more universal structure.
    • Why? Because if we don’t find the deeper why, we’ll do the same things with the same results.
    • How to probe? Again, this is already very well taught in Circling… but I thought I’d share what some of the other companies say about this:
        • What does what happened say about you—about how you think?
        • Is there a higher vantage point you can take, sitting above your own in-the-moment, reactive, defensive self—looking down to see the “you” that is messing up repeatedly and predictably?
        • How are your actions, missteps, or successes, view by this “higher you” an expression of something deeper that’s true about you?

  • Don’t pick your battles. Fight them all.
      • Why? because each one is precious, and we could be avoiding a key opening —they all lead to deeper causes that will improve everything. Must shift from “If i risk showing my weaknesses, it will be horrible” to “if i risk showing my weaknesses, I’ll probably learn something, and I will be okay in the end.” )

  • Make the probing transparent rather than private.
      • Why? So we can all learn from each other, and we embrace more of the collective’s wisdom so we’re not mired in our egocentric assumptions about reality.

  • Getting the right people—excellence, not just liking them, and complementary skills
      • We already do this, but it’s important to note since it’s easy to get into a “green” egalitarian mentality that we are still a culture of excellence. This means we are constantly striving to be excellent Circlers, and we’re bringing in people with complimentary skills, different from ours, not just people we like already. Again this prevents groupthink.

  • Learning from our own defensiveness—either grow or design around our weaknesses and blindspots (guardrail)
    • As we learn to embrace and recognize more and more of our defensive patterns and behaviors, we’ll find some areas in which we can grow, and others that are simply our ways of being that we’ll design around.

Five Qualities of Practicing in a DDO

  • Practices help externalize struggles that are interior
    • Already very good with Circling, just need to always make this important even when working with contractors

  • Connect work of the business to working on ourselves
    • Same

  • Focus on processes that generate outcomes (not outcomes)
    • Part of this is also systematizing what’s working well so others can more quickly and easily step into our roles as we grow out of them

  • Language is a practice, and it creates new tools for a new paradigm
    • In other words, its ok to be opaque when it strengthens the culture of increasing consciousness.
    • At the same time we want to recognize where we have this in-group speak and know how to not use it so we can still relate with anyone.

  • Systemic stretch involves everyone, every day, across the organization
    • The big takeaway here is to intertwine development and systemic improvement into everything we do, all the time. Actually this is already the case, but like all things Circling as we bring more consciousness to it it becomes more powerful and more easily accessible.

Quotes from the Book (with page numbers):

[cs_text]"happiness as a process of development includes the experience of loss, pain, and suffering (rather than standing in contrast to it." (9)

"Businesses expand and careers flourish within a DDO, but these changes areconsequences of the kind of development we’re talking about; they are not the development itself.

What is "the development itself?” For more than a hundred years, researchers have studied the ways human beings construct reality and have observed how that constructing can become more expansive, less distorted, less egocentric, and less reactive over time." (58)

“When a culture acts in such a way to upend our current level of mental complexity, even as we are acting to preserve that level—in this case by seeking to align with (or get in sync with) the values and norms of authorities surrounding us—that culture is operating in a fashion that induces development.” (65) “

people with self-transforming minds are not only advancing their agenda and design but also making space for its modification or expansion … they also inquire about the design itself (not just feedback within the frame of the design) " (69)

“feedback in a DDO is considered incomplete or superficial unless it penetrates beneath behavior to the assumptions and mind-sets that underlie it.” (78)

“people’s limitations are seen as their growing edge—a company resource, an asset—that should be continuously and publicly engaged.” (92) “

No real growth occurs without first experiencing some limitation at one’s core.” 93

“The principles call for a culture in which it is OK to make mistakes but unacceptable not to identify, analyze, and learn from them.” (94)

Development and profitability are one thing: "the moment we consider sacrificing one for the other, we recognize we have lost both.” (96)

"If you can perform all your responsibilities to a high level, you’re no longer in the right job.” (99)

“We make the greatest progress on the toughest business issues if we can overcome ways of thinking and acting that serve only to protect us from conflict and embarrassment. Leaders create the conditions, conversational routines, and leadership support for their members to gain immediate access to the core business issues, and to work through the understandable pain that can arise from breaking silences, confronting one’s weaknesses directly, or openly experience interpersonal disagreement.” (103)

[ddos] are not flat organizations. They do have hierarchies. People report to other people. But—and this is the discontinuous departure—higher rank gives you no free pass on the merits of your ideas, freedom from the disagreement or friendly advice of those in lower ranks, or immunity from the requirement to keep growing and changing to serve your needs and those of the business.” (108)

  • "feedback is not an act of courage, it’s an obligation"
  • "why did you say that? And what does that tell me about the way in which you’re approaching your work, and what does it tell me about you?”

"I get up every morning and I know what I am working on—myself” (113)

“Development requires a willingness to surrender a familiar equilibrium for what will eventually be a new, more adaptive one.” (114)

“Everyone is expected both to embody the culture and to strengthen it by participating continuously in the redesign of structures and routines.” (115)

"We have a set of principles, but we do not want people to merely follow them. We want people to engage them, wrestle with them. Follow them if they make sense. But most importantly, if they do not make sense, we want people to fight like hell to get them changed, show us why they don’t make sense.” (115)

“No one is permitted to be merely an actor in processes of someone else’s design.” (116)

“All business outcomes, and even small day-to-day actions, are constantly and productively reframed from being seen as single, one-off events to being regarded as the results of business processes that can be understood and revised.” (116) “

Our weaknesses are pure gold if we will only dig into them” (118)

“As you experience yourself as incomplete or inadequate—but still included and accepted—and experience the capable people around you as incomplete and inadequate—but no less admirable—these experiences seem to unleash compassion and appreciation that all of us might hope for in our relationships, and that characterize the underlying feeling in a DDO." (119)

“You accept the invitation to make your own personal learning public.” (121)

On Creating a culture of practice—

"Mindset change from performance to practice. "(124)

“The literature on deliberate practice shows that improvement depends on how frequently we practice tasks that present increasing challenge. (125)

On the importance of both holding and challenging:
“Holding on refers to the need for the setting to receive and welcome the person exactly as she now is, with no requirement, at the moment, that she be anything different from who she is. The person is given ample opportunity to exercise the capabilities she has currently developed, and those capabilities are recognized and appreciated. At the same time, the experience of engaging the world, and especially the encounter with difference and challenges will eventually bring people to the limitations of their current way of constituting themselves. They may defend against the provocations by locating all the difficulty outside themselves, or—the growth alternative—they may begin to sense the need to become a more developed version of themselves. A good holding environment is itself a source of such provocations even as it accepts who the person currently is.
[a discussion of letting go] … “a parent who holds too tightly to the child-as-he-is-now rather than sponsor the adolescent-he-is-becoming, for example, is now “overloading” and no longer is best serving that person’s development. Similarly, a company that holds people in the same job for too long, rewarding reliability and dependability as a means to encourage people to be the same people they have been, is not optimally developmental.
[finally, talking about sticking around]… do I form a new relationship with you, one that recognizes the bigger person I have become and accords me a greater sphere of influence?” (which becomes a new holding) (153)

On Growth mindset
“celebrating constant practice and the way it pays off for people and the company.” (159)

“People [can] become better version of themselves directly through the work challenges facing them every day—that people could practice getting better even while doing great work.” (160)

“DDOs are unfinished and never-finished products” 161 (so are humans)

“Continuing growth of the business comes through the continuing growth of its people.” (161)

“The coaching role is not outsourced; the company’s full-on commitment to continuous teaching does not add to the workforce. Rather, it is hardwired into the way people on the line spend their time” (same with culture change and change management and consulting in general) (167)

“You begin by expecting them not to be able to do the work successfully.” (168)

“People must stay continuously mindful that they frequently do not know, that they are frequently wrong, and that knowing this may be the most important thing they do know.” (175)

"there is only one kind of mistake that is not acceptable, and that is failing to acknowledge your mistakes.” (182)

“Pursuing human development and profitability emerges as one thing—nothing extra is required… Decurion’s axioms “reflect a choice to see wholeness and possibility rather than separateness and trade-offs. Our axioms join work, people, and development as one unified possibility rather than as separate pieces.” (185)

“If it really is all one thing, there should be no way to pick up half the stick without moving the other half, and this turns out to be true.” (186)

Engaged vitality “must come from a genuine, internal sense of the meaningfulness of one’s activity. It’s not something you can “put in” your people; it’s something they themselves need to be able to create, from within, every day.” (188)

“the pursuit of profitability as requiring the continuous growth of the people joined in that pursuit.” (189)

“The wholeness of people development and business growth.” (190)

“You’re a person with dreams and dignity, and not the human equivalent of a widget.” (195)

"This all leads to “novel and effective means to meet a host of challenges—how to increase retention, profitability, coaching support, readiness to learn, speed to promotability, frankness in communication, effective delegation, effective downsizing, acceptance of responsibility; how to reduce political maneuvering, impression management, behind-the-back disparagement, downtime, and disengagement; how to anticipate crises no one in the company has experience and manage successfully through them; how to invent future possibilities no one has experience and realize them.” (199)

“the most common mistake organizations and their leaders make is to try getting adaptive challenges with technical means.” (200)

"‘struggling well’ means openly accepting feedback on your own weaknesses and acknowledging them."

“Those in lead need to publicly serve as enthusiastic exemplars of the DDO idea, visibly operating with their fellow leaders as a developmental community for themselves, and demonstrating the requisite openness and vulnerability in their relationship to the rest of the organization.” (234)

“They must constantly deal with many competing perspectives simultaneously, constantly challenge their deepest assume,tons, and use diversity and conflict as tools to unlock new ideas. They constantly work together to increase their capacity to make a difference kind of sense.” (261) abt a team being DDO, but describes us

“none of your concerns is totally right, and none is unwarranted.” (265)

"What did you do this past week? What did you learn that you didn’t know last week?” What truth can you now speak regarding customers and your business model? What will you do next week to gain more truth?” (267)

What does it mean that you’re safe to reveal weaknesses publicly?

“When someone reveals her weaknesses and struggles publicly, she experiences an enhancement of her place in the organization rather than a diminishment. Safe does not mean people can expect to be accepted who are not working to improve.” (275)

We can disagree on whether we’ve gotten to the core, but there should be no disagreement as to the value of spending our time on these issues. “...

Deliberately constructed to make the organization and its people each other’s greatest resource for development.” (276)

“Subordinates should feel responsibility to push back on their bosses when they do not agree or understand, and bosses will welcome, rather than take umbrages at such behavior” (277)

“Over time a strength can become a limit that may need to be transcended.” (284) talking abot development

Bridgewater's problem diagnosis process:

  1. Goals/Prioritization based on values
  2. Identifying and not tolerating problems
  3. Diagnose: get to root causes; look objectively
  4. Plan: Change how you do things so problems won’t occur
  5. Doing the tasks:

A Quick Test for a DDO:

Five Questions If we came into your company, chose five people at random, and asked them each the following five questions, what would we hear?

  • Does your organization help you identify a personal challenge—meaningful to you and valuable for the company—that you can work on in order to grow?
  • Are there others who are aware of this growing edge and who care that you transcend it?
  • Are you given support to overcome your limitations? Can you name or describe this support?
  • Do you experience yourself actively working on transcending this growing edge daily or at least weekly?
  • When you do become a more capable version of yourself, is it recognized, is it celebrated, and—when you’re ready—are you given the opportunity to keep growing?

Want to stay connected?

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team—including videos on new discoveries in meditative interconnectivity, articles like this one, and upcoming events. Your information will not be shared.


50% Complete