This week I met The Fish. I wasn’t expecting to meet The Fish, especially as I’d been hearing about the Frog, or the Glass Frog to be more exact. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect at all: having met most of the Kaleidoscopians at the Collaboration: Know How event last month I knew that I was joining an enthusastic, friendly, energetic team, but after working in the NHS for 8 years, I was still, well, terrified. The work they do is so far removed from the environment that I have been engrossed in, that I was panicking.
You’re familiar, I’m sure, with the old adage, “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it must be…”
We haven’t blogged about The Fish before. Partly because it’s the very fabric of being different for us, and it comes with its own language. Does our internal structure make that much difference to our partners, if we’re realising the results we’ve set out to realise together? Well, yes actually.
When I remember that Kaleidoscope is only 6 months old it’s a bit of a shock. Having worked here for just over 3 months, it feels like so much longer; and for all of the right reasons.
One of the things that strikes me is how aligned and committed the team is to working differently and to place trust, kindness and honesty at the centre of what we do. Despite the nobility of this aspiration I have to confess that in quiet moments, when I reflect on some of our conversations in the office, it is so removed from previous professional environments that I worry we’ve created a little self-affirming bubble & we are in fact a lone nut, dancing on a hill.
We’ve recently had cause to recruit and, typically, the Kaleidoscope approach to recruitment is unlike anywhere else I’ve worked. Freed of the concerns of an overly bureaucratic organisational process we’re able to stay true to our beliefs – in the nature of the adverts we write (ones we suspect probably put a lot of people off but that we’ve deliberately written that way), the way we ask people to apply and the attributes we rate. We genuinely place our values above all else; whilst of course we’re interested in the technical skills candidates bring, what we really care about is the kindness & curiosity they demonstrate.
Which brings me back to the lone kook dancing … without people prepared to follow, we have no movement. And our latest batch of applicants are exciting, curious and kind. They are bright, engaging and accomplished people from a dazzling breadth of backgrounds and they want to join our dance – this is all the affirmation I need.
This blog was published on the morning of April 1st. Just saying.
If you want to be a different type of organisation, how do you show it? It’s a question we’ve been grappling with at Kaleidoscope ever since we started. It’s easy to set out a lofty ambition, couple it with some heightened rhetoric, and then never do anything about it (this is health care after all). So we’ve been looking for ways to evidence that our approach to being a different type of organisation – one based on trust, kindness, and joy – means more than just words.
Our job advert is one way, and it’s been lovely to see the positive response to that. However, we’ve come to see that our physical working environment (where we work as well as how we work) as one of, if not the, key way to be able to express how we’re different as an organisation. It’s those unwritten norms – the top brass in their corner offices, the junior minions sitting by the loo – which shape so much of corporate culture.
We want Kaleidoscope to be an organisation without hierarchy, where individuals are able – with the advice of colleagues – to be able to work autonomously, bringing their creativity to the fore.
Unsurprisingly, when we moved to our new offices last week, we didn’t give more space to the more senior, everyone has the same. Furthermore we came to realise that the basic assumption that everyone having their own desk too was one of these implicit cultural structures which drives organisations in the way of hierarchy and top-down control. That's why we’ve removed the desks. If we want everyone to be on the same level, we want to mean it, and now we are. Everyone is free to find a patch of floor in Kaleidoscope HQ and make it their own. Young buck or old hand, everyone is equal.
Of course, we don’t want out approach to good wellbeing and culture to result in poor physical health, so all staff are encouraged to spend at least 45 minutes a day striking physical poses which best represent the type of organisation we want Kaleidoscope to be.
This new form of OD-Yoga started in Japan (where it’s known as ‘Tawagoto’), and again helps to reinforce physically and spiritually the type of organisation we want to be. As a company, we’re still young, we’re still learning, but by making a series of relatively small changes, we’re confident we’re building an approach to last.
The sun is shining, the winter coat has been discarded in the hallway for a few weeks now, and things are starting to grow. Including Kaleidoscope. I’ve been joking since last week that we’re the fastest growing social enterprise in Europe focused on health and care. Sure it’s a self-titled accolade, but things are changing at KHQ and we’re all stretching our limbs into the sunshine. But with growth comes challenge. And challenge is a good thing.
First off, we’ve realised that as of April, we’ve quadrupled in size in our first six months of operation. Welcome to Amrita, John, Annelise, our Advisory Board, Kate and Stacey! See, fastest growing social enterprise! I’m waiting for the trophy – or at least a certificate.
Also, we’re moving office. Be prepared for Instagram worthy shots of our city view to come in the next week or so. It’s going to be good. But we’re having excellent diversionary discussions about suitable seating, where the Welsh dresser will go, and what to plant on the balcony. (Yes, we’ll have a balcony – stop by for a coffee and a chat and admire the view while you’re here!) Part of building a new team is about building consensus, and our shared space will be a physical reminder of how we’re doing this.
Next, we’re developing a capacity model, to help us track our commitments and our dreams to deliver big on our mission. It means asking challenging questions – like how do we balance work that ensures the lights stay on with work that truly further’s our mission to improve health and care. Luckily we have an amazingly experienced Advisory Board who help us test this thinking (thanks guys!) and the opportunity to do exciting paid work that does build on our mission. We must be doing something right.
Finally, we’re working to define who we are and how we operate as a business by facing everyday challenges that come up just by virtue of doing said business. How can you be a non-consultant doing consultancy? How can you be a team with no titles and hierarchy in a system that wants you to bid with job titles and delegations? I’ve read a great article on quantum mechanics today that resonated. I’ve realised that essentially we’re like particles in superposition of here-there-ness. In a reality that deals with probabilities rather than certainties, we’re like particles that are fundamentally neither here or there, but, until pinned down, we are both here and there at the same time. Come with us and see where we turn up next!
On Tuesday night, on the way home from the National Medical Directors Clinical Fellows evening, I called into Dalston to see Malka play her first gig of 2017. She’s a friend of mine, but I also love her music and couldn’t pass up the chance to see her play live. I’ve been to a few of her gigs, but last night I noticed something I hadn’t before. How happy she and her whole band were to be working together as a team to produce some truly wonderful music.
“How lucky are they to be working together on something they all are so into, and so good at and so obviously loving what they do.” I thought.
And then, “How lucky am I?”
I didn’t know that this would be something I would love so much, so quickly. I’ve been joking about using my powers for good rather than evil at Kaleidoscope, but really in more than 16 years in the public sector it’s not really ever felt like I was doing the wrong thing. But building something from the inside out and working with a team of people that have the same mission to heart, that feels like something rare and precious, and worth celebrating. Even when you are reviewing a bid at 1am the night before submission!
The aspiration of course is that with great heart and a great team doing work that we truly love, that we can achieve great things. Have you found this to be true? And do check out Malka’s new single Breakout and let me know what you think!
I’m two weeks in and at the moment (and not for long) the newest member of the growing Kaleidoscope team. I answered a job advert that specified kindness as the primary skill required for this job.
I joined from a career spent in consulting (the guys who take your watch and tell you the time), where everyone’s leaving email always mentions “The People” as the number one thing they are going to miss when moving on. I made some amazing friends in my formative years in consulting, and found mentors and colleagues who I will always learn from and value. But, I may have found my tribe. A place where our Tuesday planning session involved a discussion about our mission. We added bold, creative, revolutionary, improving people’s lives, innovative and ordinary magic to a list of ways to describe who we are and what we want to do. But it’s not just going to happen because we want it to. And there are lots of existential conversations required to resolve questions of ownership and responsibility, of pro bono projects versus paying for coffee and corner offices, and growth and challenge. But at our heart we will remain kind first and foremost.
When thinking about how we want to be, of course we talk about the type of work we want to do. And we asked ourselves – where do you draw the line. Would we do work for someone who was unkind? If we could tie the project back to our mission? If it funds the coffee? And I was reminded of a client I had on my very first project.
I was a bright, young, optimistic analyst, working on a project for a large government department. The deputy for the area I was working with was a battle scarred, realistic and very experienced long serving public servant. She was the kind of person, who when I said a cheery “Good Morning!” would reply with, “What’s so good about it.” We worked together for eighteen months. We fixed some problems. And at the end of the project, she hugged me goodbye. It wasn’t a gradual shift to comradery – a sudden hug back, a surprising and wonderful end to our time together.
You can always be kind. It is always possible. Watch out for some ordinary magic…
Setting up an organisation brings with it fun (posting brown paper envelopes full of cash to our Unexpected Conversations winners), frolics (decorating our giant welsh dresser) and the necessary headaches (factoring in a power outage every time someone tries to use the microwave). One thing I’ve pondered in my first few weeks of Kaleidoscope life is our range of working histories. For want of a less corporate-sounding term, I currently fit in the box of young professional, and at this stage in my career being involved in the development of a new organisation, especially one that is eschewing strict working patterns and traditional organisational hierarchies, is both hugely exciting and slightly daunting. It’s giving me the freedom to learn how I work best, when and where I’m most productive, and to try and consider how I can be most useful to the growing Kaleidoscope empire.
My peers and I are used to job hopping, and nowadays the idea of staying in one job for life is practically unheard of. My philosophy up until this point has been to change role or move organisations once I feel I’ve learnt everything I can in that setting. So how do we encourage people to develop and grow at Kaleidoscope? Without a clear hierarchical ladder in sight, the way we approach rewarding hard work and acknowledging progress will be interesting to eke out. And equally important for future consideration, how do we enable people to move on when the timing is right, both for the benefit of the individual but also the organisation as a whole, which prides itself on fresh thinking and building new networks of people? We try to answer complex questions like these at our weekly Tuesday meetings at Kaleidoscope HQ. I for one am looking forward to discussing the above further, fresh coffee pot ready and waiting. We’ll keep you posted…
Yesterday I wrote about our plans for today, a day where we'd work out how to be an ethical organisation, owned by all, thinking differently about health and healthcare. Beginning 10am, intense gazes would be exchanged around the room as we began to discuss kindness over capability, amongst other altruisms.
As the clock struck 10 today only a third of us were here. Our lead for the day unwell, one who’s train who stood still, one (myself) failing to board with a ticket, and another, held up by a train fatality.
How does one keep a business running when core staff in a small business are ill, when people make honest, but silly, mistakes, and when the horrors of commuting life hit home?
Do we need hierarchy to keep people in line and fearful and plodding into work ill, fearful enough to not mistakes with train tickets or to get an earlier train?
Or do we have to trust in each other's kindness that we meant well, and laugh at the irony that on the day we discuss workplace flexibility, 4 out of 6 us weren't in the office at the time we said we would be?
Tomorrow, in our Surrey Quays abode, Kaleidoscopians will be coming together to plan the future of our organisation. To paint the scene for you, that’s 6 of us moving our intense gazes around the table as we ponder how to build an ethical organisation, owned by all, aiming to think differently about health and healthcare.
Some of the questions we’ll be wresting with include:
Working out who we are at our core. What does it take to be part of a mission driven organisation? Do we need people to be kind first and foremost, or capable? Which begs the question of what does capable look like at our organisation:
Are we following the right folks? Tomorrow we’re set to assess two alternative ways of running organisations, one pioneered by Brian J Robertson, Holacracy, a world of no hierarchy, but a ‘nest of circles’, and Frederic Laloux’s reinvented ‘teal’ organisation, preaching ‘inner rightness, service to the world, with calling and purpose”.
How do we assign roles? Everyone is being asked to write about themselves, on the skills and qualities in which they shine, and identify those where they falter. This ‘resume’ will then be shared with the group, from which we will decide who does what at Kaleidoscope.
How do we keep in line without line managers? A buddy system has been proposed, in which we pair up with someone else whose ‘resume’ is near opposite to our own. With this, they can act as a counterbalance to trickier questions we’re asking ourselves, such as, can I take 3 weeks off to go do an Eat, Pray, Love journey?
Quite simply we want to make work work. We want for work not to feel like a chore to pay the mortgage but a soul serving vocation. In practice though…..well, we’ll find out tomorrow!