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After a long week, a short blog... .(hooray you cry). And after typing thousands of words in emails, reports and proposals all week, I'm going to try pictures instead.

On Wednesday I left London, in my ongoing quest to find businesses that work differently.

I visited a manufacturing firm which used an interesting canine metaphor to describe their journey to having an autonomous, purposeful and prosperous workforce.  They started as a business where employees thought and acted like this:

It's a dog's life

image by marc falardeau

The expectation was that management would tell them what to do, when, how, and maybe if they were very lucky, why. They were happy to clock in and out 9-5. They made barely more than minimum wage.  But to the owners' great surprise, when they were given the chance to have radically more freedom, responsibility, and importantly, money, many didn't want it.

They looked and acted rather like this:

Sipsi looks a bit worried about going in

Image by Dave Goodman

Everything in their education and professional experience so far had been based on conformity to authority, clear boundaries, limited expectation, narrow jobs and minimum personal risk. They were thoroughly domesticated.

The next stage of the journey - taking off the leash and collar - was therefore very painful, protracted and often unpleasant. It took years for the change in culture  to take root:  to hand over the reins, and rewards, of the business to a workforce that had never expected to be given them and had learned somehow not to want them.

Seeking a domesticated, familiar environment, many left to work in conventional businesses. The remainder found it hard to find new workers who could not only hack it, but actively relish this radical autonomy.

In the interests of profit, performance, and people, the owners gave up their fat salaries and earned their (still good) money instead by supplying services (e.g. software, workspace) for the workers, tailored to the needs of the business. As a result they turned what had been a conventional, rather knackered and hierarchical manufacturing business into a highly efficient and profitable collaborative venture, where the workers did 'whole' jobs (incorporating sales, finance, production, marketing, HR), decided between them how to run the business, and earned great salaries by taking home directly what they produced. From being factory drones they became a team of interconnected, free-spirited and resourceful micro-entrepreneurs, who collaborate when they need to, and not when they don't.

In effect, their experiment represents a 'rewilding' of work

Two Grey Wolves

 Image by Caninfest

Talking to the workers themselves highlighted the fact  that's a demanding, way of working. It means living with constant pressures that are as much internally as externally driven. But they wouldn't dream of leaving, and going back into a conventional business. The collar would chafe....

How wild is your workplace? And what could you do to help your organisation lose its domesticity?

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