The situation was so surreal, like it was part of an award winning movie, yet it was the reality. The call caught Matt in the middle of the black rock desert during the annual Burning Man festival. The sound of happy people and loud music made it hard to hear the voice on the other end of the line. “We are declaring disaster recovery. We lost the building, and the data center is down as well. Join the bridge.” While looking for a quiet place to join the bridge all he could see were people celebrating the end of another building day.
Two years ago he started a culture shift from a hierarchical structure to self-managed, wholeness culture for three reasons. One of the reasons and the most important one was to prepare the IT group to support a significant disruption to the business. Now, without any preparation, he understood that all of the work he put in over the last two years was going to be put to the real test. More real than he even imagined, a real test for the non-hierarchal organization because the IT group has to function in radical self-management without central leadership.
Matt had already seen improvement in almost every metric (even exponential growth in several of the parameters) he and the IT group measured since they started to implement Wholeness, Self-managed and Purpose organization, but the new “creature” had never survived radical business disruption. And now it was happening, without any warning and preparation and as always at the worst time.
It took time to find a “quit” place to take the call, as all the festival area is one massive cluster of parties that mash all the music into a loud low vibration sound. When joining the bridge, Matt found out that due to the impact of Harvey on Houston he was the only one who could maintain the open bridge because he was outside the impacted city. Now he found himself even more disconnected as he lost his ability to communicate with other leaders in his group and across the company.
As expected, all related parties joined the bridge and Matt’s team started to follow the plan to recover all critical applications, the same procedure they just tested three months before the Hurricane hit. Everyone knew what he needed to do, therefore executing the plan took less time than it took during the test. Everyone was optimistic, even though a significant crisis was there, no one could sense it yet.
Quickly, it became clear that the concept of critical systems and the quality of the disaster recovery (DR) test were all wrong. The essential applications had dependencies on “non-critical” systems that weren’t part of the DR plan; therefore it would take days to restore them from backups. Matt knew that the building was underwater and due to electricity issues the temperature in the data center reached far above 160F, he could see the train wreck.
There was just one focus of thought in Matt’s head, how to resolve this catastrophe. As Matt was engaged in his thoughts, he started to hear from IT team members reporting on actions they were going to take to resolve the issues. They didn’t wait for anyone to provide solutions and they didn’t ask for permission; they just started to report what they were doing. We got a boat, and we are going to get into the data center to take computers and storage containing the missing dependent applications. We are going to get more space at our co-location, we are going to rewrite this service which stops a core business process from running.
More and more reports like that started to fill the tense silence on the bridge. As more and more reports were heard over the call, the progress was evident. With the positive momentum created by the reports, it also became more apparent that the disruption to the business would be minimal.
After twelve hours, that felt like a century; all the primary business functions were up and running. Matt knew that there was still a lot of work to bring up all needed solutions, but he also had the confidence that the team he was leading would manage to resolve all future issues.
This team just passed the hardest test, and they passed it significantly above the average grade. The new culture worked, even better than expected. Most of the group members knew that they could take action without any fear of punishment if they made mistakes. They acted like owners, and they did whatever they could to resolve the crisis. There weren’t any managers that gave orders or made any decisions for others. It was the IT team effort that came together to solve a significant disruption amidst chaos, and it worked perfectly well.
Matt attended the annual Burning Man festival to learn more about how people can be organized and motivated to reach goals without the traditional hierarchy structure. When his company managed to overcome a significant business disruption by taking into account the contribution of his team and the culture he created, he smiled and joined the big party. He just knew that he had more to teach than learn on self-management, wholeness, and purpose based organizations.
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