Meta is not the most important thing

· May 20, 2015

I had a couple of great conversations yesterday that gave me a small epiphany. Here’s the small thing that I came up with:

Meta is not the most important thing. By definition.

Well… it’s not much now that I see it. But maybe you’ll care to join in my reasoning. Anyway that what’s the rest of the post is about.

I am completely absorbed by the Reinventing Organizations book. I’ve already written about it on this blog and will not dive deeper into the actual book again.

But one thing that stand out for all of the organizations that is researched is that the people in these teal organizations are not in the organizations because they are teal. They are there because they like the way they work.

I’m betting that in FAVI there’s not many people that are aware that they work in a teal organization. That’s just meta-information. It happens to be the way FAVI is organised. The people in the organization like they work and want to become better in doing the work they do.

If you go to their web site they are not advertising the “teal” way of organizing. They just say that they create great products.

On a smaller, and newer, scale Aptitud get some interest about the way that we organize ourselves. We have teared down quite a lot of normal policies and procedures. But that’s not why we are working in Aptitud. Building Aptitud is just a consequence of us trying to do something better for ourselves. I know that it will be something different in a couple of year.

In the same way, most people, working at Aptitud couldn’t care less if we are teal, agile, lean or whatever. We are us and we are trying to be a better version of us ever week. Where that take us, what label that put on us is not very important. As long it’s better. What it is, is just meta.

That said, there are some of us that happen to be interested in how to build these kind of organizations. Just as some other people in Aptitud is interested in soccer, or coding 8-bit-games.


I have often said that “there’s no problem if you are doing Scrum-but as long as it serves you well.”

Many of the best teams, in terms of frequent reliable high-quality deliveries, I’ve met have absolutely no idea what their method is called. Maybe it started as Scrum, inspired by Lean with a little bit of XP crumbled on top. Tomorrow it will be something different.

It’s not important - it’s just meta.

That you are running Scrum (c) or Kanban (tm)(c)(r) (capital K mind you) is only important for the people selling Scrum or Kanban. In the Scrum case the Scrum guide have always ended with this phrase just to emphasize this:

Scrum’s roles, artifacts, events, and rules are immutable and although implementing only parts of Scrum is possible, the result is not Scrum.

And that it is Scrum or (brrrr) “not Scrum” is not important (for most of us). It just meta. It’s not the most important.

However …

In some organizations there are people whose entire job is meta. As one of the people I talked to yesterday said: “They work as a middle-manager at a bank to be a middle-manager at a bank”. Or, if I’m going to be self-critical: “He works as an agile coach just to be an agile coach”. Ouch… have to think about that.

I have a hunch that the more hierarchical and the more levels an organization has the more need for meta roles there is. Until a point, where some places I’ve been in, it’s almost only meta. Or at least more meta-roles and actual roles.

Go to any big insurance and try to round up the people that care deeply about insurances. Or even end customers. I think you’ll end up with a few percentages, at best, of the entire workforce. It applies to most big organizations. The things that we do care about in those organizations are: power, position, procedure and roles. It’s just meta. It’s not the most important thing.

A start to improve is to think hard about what is not meta (see FAVI below) and then realize that my role might be just meta, those kind of tasks is not the most important thing. That’s the reason it’s called meta. It’s not unimportant, but it’s just meta. It’s not the most important thing.

The “CEO” (or what you want to call him, since they got rid of titles a long time ago) of FAVI, Jean-François Zobrist defined some values for FAVI that they work of. I don’t remember the exact wording but basically:

  • Humans are considered to be systematically good
  • Value is created on the shop floor

That is not meta. That is important. From that stems all innovation, all new ideas they try. They don’t care what it’s called. Or if they happen to be “teal-but” or not. They just want to be better.


Just because something is meta doesn’t mean that it’s not important. It’s just not most important. By definition. That’s why it’s called meta.

Now - what is meta and what is not… Well … you’ll figure it out. Right? Tell me when you do. Please

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