October 7, 2014

Designing brightspot

brightspot Culture

April 2016 Update: Since we wrote this post in July of 2014 when we designed version 1.0 of our organizational chart, we’ve been continuously assessing and adapting it as we added brightspotters, the business matured, and we took on new challenges. Over the past 20 months our biggest lessons were:

  1. Careful scoping was needed to ensure internal brightspot roles could be achievable in balance with our external client work
  2. Areas of responsibility needed to align with other structures, including our management team as well as our annual business goals
  3. Sector-specific focus was not yet productive or needed, in particular because our clients see us as a bridge across sectors to enable them to learn from and be inspired by other organizations

Based on this, we created org chart 2.0, which puts our people functions at the center, then puts our operations as support around them, and then has interdependent areas of marketing, offering, and insights, and finally our projects as the outer ring. (We also felt the circles – or more aptly, spots – were a better fit for us. You can view version 2.0 here



This summer, we undertook an exciting project: designing brightspot’s first org chart! You might be thinking: “Why does a small company need an organizational structure?” Well, it’s all about growth – both to give individuals areas of responsibility to grow into and to enable our company to scale up over time.

Our goals were to:

  • Create the minimum viable structure – just enough structure for ownership and accountability to enable effective execution while staying nimble
  • Sustain a culture where everyone has a say and everyone’s ideas count
  • Provide a way for people to grow in responsibility, skills, experience, and compensation over time as they take on more / bigger areas of responsibility (boxes on the chart)
  • Define roles as ~1 year posts so we can re-evaluate and re-assign as we grow

Like everything we do, we took an “outside in, inside out” approach and tried to walk the talk in terms of the development process. So, our structure tries to learn from and address what we hear from our clients and see in the competitive landscape – for instance, we are very much inspired by the idea of a holocracy in which authority is distributed to manage the work while maximizing autonomy and ownership. We adopted some of these characteristics, with perhaps more coming. At the same time, we were also responding to the skills, knowledge, and aspirations of our people to give them each opportunities to lead something.

We developed the org structure through a participatory, transparent process that was guided by a skilled outside facilitator – Winnie da Silva – who is also our professional development coach. To do so, we:

  • Reflected on our vision, mission, and values to guide the conversation
  • Convened a series of workshops to identify the few dozen functions within the organization
  • Created logical groupings of these functions into areas and defined roles including responsibilities, KPIs, known issues/opportunities, and budget in terms of time and $
  • Met individually and as a group to assign people to roles, with the idea that each person should do something internally-facing and something externally-facing

We ended up with a structure that balances internal and external roles, created areas of responsibility for everything that makes brightspot go, and identified many areas for me, as the founder, to delegate to create opportunities for others and enable me to get out of the way so I can lead the way. You can view it here.

So far so good. Everyone has embraced their new roles, generally in proportion to the urgency of the responsibilities of each, with longer-horizon areas taking longer to stick. We are still trying to find the right balance of meetings to coordinate and remain accountable without creating too many of them. We are also still reconciling how each person’s responsibilities relate to the 5 individual goals he/she had already established for 2014 (which ladder up to our 5 organizational goals for the year). Stay tuned.

– Elliot



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