OSS Organization as Leadership

Posted on Mon 30 May 2022 in Leadership

Open Source Organization as Leadership

It starts with the premise that everyone is curious and compassionate. Maybe this is what Dan Pink meant in his RSA Animate talk. He asked, "What motivates us?" His findings were autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Not money. Not leisure. Not luxury. Humans are neither lazy, stupid, nor greedy. In fact we're the opposite. This is why the second law of infodynamics is true: we steadily and continuously, against all odds and the sublime nature of the universe, continue to learn, improve, and thrive together as a species.

Okay. Again assuming this premise, so then good leadership takes advantage of these axioms by providing a framework for their organization that fosters autonomy, allows individuals to seek mastery, and creates a strong sense of common purpose. In practice this means:

Leadership that models and follows these three C's will be stronger, faster, and smarter than its opposites. An organization that is punitive, divisive, and siloed will be trapped, wither, and die.

In practice this type of organization has the following characteristics:

  • Flat structure
  • Rotating leadership
  • Frequent informal meetings
  • Free time
  • Opportunities to change job description
  • Strong mission, with loose long term planning, but detailed short term planning
  • Detailed diagnostics
  • Ambitious goals
  • An acceptance of failure
  • Celebrates individuality
  • Culture of pluralism
  • An appreciation of small things
  • Groom leaders and empower career growth
  • Give positive feedback
  • Share business constraints at all levels

Flat structure

In a 3C organization, everyone has an opportunity to be heard and be visible. This means there are less levels of leadership, more autonomy, but also more communication and collaboration.

Think about a free open source software project like Python. There might be be an owner or two, a rotating group of maintainers, several contributors, and many users. This is the most successful business model. A product that is completely free, thrives for decades, continuously becomes better, grows, and fuels numerous new projects.

Rotating leadership

The founder of an organization may be a visionary or a glorified figure head. She initially provided direction for the organization, but eventually, a group of leaders were chosen from the community to handle day to day functions. Some of these tasks are mundane yet critical, others creative and potentially ground breaking. If the organization draws strength from its members then many will be able to lead in different capacities. By rotating leadership responsibilities, the organization leverages every member's unique potential.

Frequent informal meetings

No one likes pointless meetings, so instead of waiting, in the age of Slack and other instant messaging, communicate immediately when required. In fact all the time. Communication is the key that makes an organization truly agile and responsive. As soon as you know a products timeline shifts, the sooner you can plan contingencies.

Free time

Without free time, ideas have no fertile soil to grow. Organizations that are overworked become dysfunctional and implode.

Opportunities to change job descriptions

In an organization that cherishes individuals, members are encouraged to seek their true calling. That may mean they move on to new challenges, or that they create new roles for themselves within the organization. Flexibility to try on different roles empowers members to seek mastery in something they value.

Strong mission, with loose long term planning, but detailed short term planning

See iterative project planning.

Detailed diagnostics

Measure what you treasure. Intuition and gut instincts will only get you so far, but data is gold. If you want your team to succeed, you need to have the facts. Data tells you where you can celebrate victories, and where you can trim the fat. Share the data with your team and make swift decisions.

Ambitious goals

Go after what you really want. What makes your team come to work everyday at the crack of dawn? Small victories are important, but only if they are working towards a larger goal.

An Acceptance of failure

Failure is the very nature of experimentation. You will fail. It's not a matter of if, only when. Model and demonstrate that failure is always an option, that we can learn valuable information, and that there's no judgement when we all put in our best efforts. Be supportive and always constructive.

Celebrate individuality

Seek different. Do not collect a team of clones. Encourage diversity and nurture it. Don't dismiss ideas that seem foreign to you. Instead embrace these as gems to be treasured and cherish the uniqueness of everyone on your team.

Culture of pluralism

Include your team in decisions and strive for consensus. Share information and collaborate. We are stronger as a team. There are no heroes who have all the answers. When celebrating victories, recognize everyone. Work hard to reap the benefits of your team's rich & diverse culture.

An appreciation of small things

Celebrate little victories. Break work down into short tasks that can be more easily grokked.

Groom leaders and empower career growth

Always be working to replace yourself. Put others on a path to leadership. Learn what teammates crave and give it to them.

Give positive feedback

Positive feedback is not the same as praise. Practice sharing detailed examples of work that you value in private with your team. Always sandwich constructive feedback. A good relationship should always have a larger ratio of positive feedback.

Share business constraints at all levels

Your team needs to know what their motivation is, so give them the details. Don't hold back. If there's only $10 left in the bank, they won't make big plans at a time when earning cash is the priority.