How self-management can save you during a disaster?


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. Join the bridge.” While looking for a quiet place to join the bridge, all he could see where people celebrated the end of another building day.

Two years ago he started a culture shift from a hierarchical structure to a self-managed, wholeness culture for three reasons. One reason and the most important one was to prepare the IT group to support a significant disruption to the business. Now, with no preparation, he understood that all the work he put in over the last two years would put into a real test. More real than he ever 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, with no warning and preparation and as always at the worst time.

It took time to find a “quiet” 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 because of the impact of Harvey on Houston he was the only one who could maintain the open bridge because he was outside the impacted city. Having one phone that was used to run the bridge, 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 all the systems from backups. Matt knew that the building was underwater and because of 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 would 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 will get into the data center to take computers and storage containing the missing dependent applications. We will get more space in 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 reports heard over the call, the progress was clear. With the positive momentum created by the reports, it also became more clear 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 resolve all future issues.

This team just passed the hardest test, and they passed it above the average grade. The new culture worked, even better than expected. Most of the group members knew that they could take action with no 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 decided for others. It was the IT team effort that came together to solve a significant disruption amidst the chaos, and it worked perfectly well.

Matt attended the annual Burning Man festival to learn more about how people can organize and motivate to reach goals without the traditional hierarchy structure. When his company overcame 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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