By Maribel Alonso and Joserra Díaz

10Pines in a few words

10Pines is a 10-year-old software development company headquartered in Argentina with agile manifesto values and a peculiar way of working at its roots. With 85 employees, 10pines has more than $3M in sales and it serves both startups and large clients such as Starbucks, Burger King, Turner, Claro, Teespring in North and South America. Due to its culture and rituals, employees at 10pines are happy and turnover is less than 5%, compared to a 25-30% average value in the industry.

The origins of modern organizational structures and practices

Since its birth, 10Pines has been attracted by values and principles of the agile world as a way to increase its commitment and care towards human dynamics, relationships and aspects. A sincere desire for bridging human qualities and technical competencies has always permeated its approach to work, under a clear assumption that human beings have to be treated as such.

Early inspiration in terms of transparency, experimentation and advanced human-centric practices also came by looking at the example provided in the nearby Brasil by Richardo Semler and its experience at Semco. 

Such an evolution journey and the willingness to introduce techniques that could effectively address its growth and a natural tendency most startups have to decide everything by consent, brought them to the discovery of Sociocracy and its consent-based approach. Even without formal training, after 5-6 years 10 pines found itself very much in tune with sociocratic principles and started actively deepening its knowledge of their concrete applications.

Taking inspiration from Sociocracy

More than adopting in full any individual framework, in line with its culture of curiosity and continuous improvement, 10pines keeps learning and testing practices from multiple approaches. 

As depicted below, some of the elements are inspired by Sociocracy, quite always with original twists introduced by 10pines to adapt them to their unique context and culture:

  • The group is organized in circles, with a General One named “Roots” (and 10pines, pun intended) with 60 members taking care about coordination and connection, plus an “Associates & Masters” circle with most senior colleagues providing vision and long term direction as the Mission Circle does in Sociocracy. Roots is meant as a home into which eventually (after a few months from joining the company) everybody will enter to bring their personal decision-making contribution, as 10 pines is not using delegate and leader roles for representing a circle in a broader one. Indeed, even facilitators depend on projects as they are also using figures from scrum, such as scrum master.  A number of more specific sub-circles are available under Roots while some others, such as “Event Planning” and “Non Roots + External”, are positioned outside from it. There was people outside of the roots circle, but they can still participate in some other groups (for example, event planning). The idea is that non-roots can slowly do some work related to the company, but not in a way that would distract them from adapting to the new environment
  • No double linking mechanism is considered necessary, as the circles operationally keep themselves in the loop through a weekly company-wide stand-up meeting (every Friday), with one person from every project and management team providing details about progress. Participants can join and leave the meeting at any time based on their needs. In addition to that, all the people in Roots come together once a month to collectively and synchronously contribute to the management and decision making in the company. This mechanism lets a very organic, natural and fluid process of leadership emerge.
  • Meeting structure depends on the specific project. Formats inspired by Scrum or sociocracy are used based on what is requested in each case, according to the belief that values more than process are the driver.
    • Proposals are formulated, mostly in the General Circle and sometimes also in sub-circles, in a way that is inspired by but not strictly adhering to Sociocracy. Agenda preparation and meeting notes are also prepared according to the preferences of the teams, with a more structured process in the General Circle and a less informal one in others.
    • Consent is loosely used to present a proposal, clarify aspects at the moment or asynchronously, react and potentially amend the initial formulation but it doesn’t include rounds. On the contrary, members are invited to raise their hands if they want to talk or in case of objections. Making your voice heard on each topic is not mandatory.
    • Even without the leaders/delegate roles and double linking, company-wide meetings enable full transparency among formal members of the organization. Information sharing is key to empower everybody in the Roots to decide together. Transparency is part of an open book management effort according to which even sensitive data such as project performance and expenses, salaries, revenues, margins and costs are intentionally shared to facilitate diffused participation and trust. 
    • Circle membership is not the subject of any policy. Joining a circle is currently a personal decision, with each individual free to move If he/she so desires. 

    Additional practices

    On top of adopting and tweaking individual techniques from Sociocracy, 10pines evolved its internal collaboration practices from other movements and experiences in the market:

      • Overall vision, mission, objectives and company policies are written in a wiki. To reinforce the commitment for greater good, 10pines is also certified as a B-Corp (see https://bcorporation.net/).
      • In line with principles of treating humans with respect and fairness, the company built a policy according to which 50% of profits are shared with employees at the end of the year, based on a formula that considers rates, education level, seniority in 10pines. The remaining 50% is divided between dividends and investments. The aim is both increasing the sense of belonging and individual accountability about how money is spent.
      • A lot of attention is given to recruiting the seeds (new joiners). Candidates go through 3 steps: in-person 1-to-1 interviews with two 10pines employees to check for cultural fit, a takeaway technical exercise done at their own pace and presented to two other employees and finally a group interview with everyone in Roots that wants to join participating to the meeting (usually at least 15 – 20 people) to let the candidate learn about 10pines. Interestingly enough, most rejections happen only in the third meeting where the larger group is able to see dynamics that may have been lost in the previous stages.
      • Teams manage themselves without the need for having bosses or picking job titles
      • Remote working, from home or from another place, is a free choice for all employees to address their individual needs and preferences
      • Feedback is valued and mostly happens through retrospective-like formats inspired by agile practices.
      • Even salaries are entirely transparent. A meeting per quarter is held to openly share how each individual performed against self-set goals and discuss salary increases 
      • Slack, Loomio and other online tools are leveraged to extend information sharing and decision making to those colleagues that couldn’t join the monthly meeting. 
      • A mentorship program, named Gardeners, is in place to help colleagues set goals, learn and develop themselves in the next quarter.
      • The annual retreat is a yearly outdoor meeting to discuss both short and long term direction but also fears, desires. Everybody is invited to attend.
      • Every Friday afternoon is off to concentrate on learning or special projects that could benefit the employee and or the company
      • 10pines offers monthly money-like points that the group can spend on the office
      • Beers and football teams are also available

    Conclusions

    In a young, quickly evolving but still reasonably small context, 10pines took inspiration from but didn’t perceive the need to introduce Sociocracy practices in full, as members still find it easy to meet, communicate and decide together all the time.

    A stable and coherent set of human-centric principles has helped the company to pick and mix circles, consent, transparency and sociocratic meeting formats with retrospectives and stand-ups from the agile domain together with other ideas from world-wide self-management pioneers such as Semco.

    Together with a diffused trust and sense of belonging, new practices are constantly explored, tested and evolved towards a frequent refactoring of collaboration processes with the goal of protecting togetherness and effectiveness while the company keeps onboarding new colleagues.

    10pines believes the future of work will be more about human values, intellectual capabilities and continuous learning than about automation. Such a view and the practices described so far resonate particularly well with millennials, new joiners and performance, as organizational health and psychological safety strongly correlate with company results, not just in software development or technology. 

    Living in a country with a limited number of companies that have already adopted self-organization and self-management practices, 10pines actively keeps in touch with firms and communities in other parts of the world, to discover but also nurture opportunities for improving its way of working.