Workflow is a language for making and managing promises. It's a language for talking about accountability relationships with more clarity and less awkwardness. It can be used to describe, diagnose, and construct arbitrary organizational forms.
Workflow is not a "model" or a "system"; it's a tool, a language, for having better conversations. Workflow doesn't purport to solve your problems, but to help you clarify them, to talk about them more constructively. The workflow language allows us to have better conversations about the work we do together, to better understand our shared reality, and to better construct our collective future. At Informal, we believe the workflow language can provide tremendous value to companies looking to scale in a more sustainable way.
We can describe Workflow as a language for navigating promises. The language can be used to:
- Diagnose issues interfering with our work together
- Provide structure for new work
- Build empathy and relationship by seeing promise making and keeping as a skill to be developed
- Enhance communication by tools that allow people to focus on the barriers and issues directly.
The language is useful for small tasks through complex partnerships, from individual meetings to the long term mission and vision. In the end, it facilitates trust. The language is straightforward to learn and can be put into practice immediately. The value of the language is only experienced over time, as it is used consistently and becomes interwoven with the organization's culture.
By providing a language for talking about promises - about the stages of promise making and redemption - Workflow helps eliminate a lot of the ambiguity and awkwardness that can come from dealing with accountability. In doing so, it illuminates opportunities for improved organizational practices and designs.
In the rest of this guide, we describe the Workflow language and the elements of an organization it sheds light on: planning and OKRs, KPIs, project roles, effective meetings, functional teams, decision authorities, employee stewardship, etc. This guide is a work in progress, and will be updated to reflect our evolving understanding. See our blog post for more information on why we decided to adopt the Workflow language into our organizational design. And if you're interested in joining us, we're hiring.
Workflow was taught to us, Informal Systems, by Melissa Angeli and Laura McKinney of Jacquarden Consulting, with powerful results. Laura and Melissa were previously the CEO and Head of HR, respectively, for Galois, a successful R&D company in the US with an acclaimed organizational design, known as the collaborative web. Their paper on the subject describes common dysfunctions in management and leadership and how the collaborative web structure resolves them. It is well worth reading. The Workflow model itself comes from Fernando Flores and his Conversations for Action; his seminal thinking and guidance made Melissa and Laura’s work possible. Fernando calls workflow "the loop."
Other References and Useful Links:
- Informal Organizations: Iterating on Cooperative Ownership - Blog post that provides more background context on how Informal is legally structured, including our research on alternative legal structures for organizations.
- The Informal System: Introducing Workflow - Blog post motivating and introducing Workflow and announcing this guide!
- The Collaborative Web paper - Paper published by Galois on their internal organizational structure, a major source of inspiration for us
- Conversations for Action - Compilation of work by Fernando Flores on organizational theory and practice of workflow
Use, or not, at your own risk :)
If you do, we'd love to hear from you at hello at informal.systems!