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The 5 Principles of Being Open

This blog post is an excerpt from our recent course created in partnership with Red Hat, Organizing for Open in Your Leadership and Culture. To access the full course, head here.

When leaders hear the phrase “open organization,” they often find it confusing. They assume that an organization is either fully “open”—completely transparent and leaderless—or fully “closed.”

The reality is that open organizational cultures vary widely, but all are intentional and structured. When making decisions about how to embrace openness, every organization or team will find itself guided by its individual goals, mission, culture, and industry regulations.

Organizations operate on a spectrum of openness, allowing for customization according to their principles. Because goals and values vary between organizations, openness will look different for everyone. But a crucial component to organizing for open means at least five principles should be part of your foundation. Let’s examine these 5 principles, as outlined in the official Open Organization Definition at Opensource.com. Then let’s look at how they translate in practice.

Principle #1: Transparency: This principle means everyone working on a project or initiative has access to all pertinent materials. People willingly disclose their work, invite participation on projects before those projects are complete, and respond positively to requests for additional details. People affected by decisions can access and review the processes and conversations that lead to those decisions, and they can respond to them.

Principle #2: Inclusivity: What does this look like? Well, technical channels and social norms for encouraging diverse points of view are well-established and obvious. The organization features multiple channels and methods for receiving feedback to accommodate people’s preferences. Leaders are conscious of voices not present in dialog and actively seek to include or incorporate them.

Principle #3: Adaptability: This means that feedback mechanisms allow and encourage peers to assist each other without managerial oversight. Leaders work to ensure that feedback loops genuinely and materially impact how people in the organization operate. People are not afraid to make mistakes, yet projects and teams are comfortable adapting their pre-existing work to project-specific contexts to avoid repeated failures.

Principle #4: Collaboration: Here, people tend to begin work collaboratively, rather than add collaboration after they’ve each completed individual components of work. Work produced collaboratively is available externally for creators outside the organization to use in potentially unforeseen ways. People can discover, provide feedback on, and join work in progress easily—and are welcomed to do so.

Principle #5: Community: Shared values and principles inform decision-making and assessment processes are clear and obvious to members. Leaders mentor others and demonstrate strong accountability to the group by modeling shared values and principles. People have a common language and work together to ensure that ideas are clearly communicated and they are comfortable sharing their knowledge and stories to further the group’s work.

How can these open principles and mindsets be adapted into the culture of your workplace and leadership? Find out by accessing the full course here.


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