A win for open is a win for all: Interview with The Open Organization

The Open Organization is a Red Hat-supported community project that is dedicated to exploring how open principles change the ways we work, manage and lead. We were fortunate to get to speak with Bryan Behrenshausen, Community Architect for the Open Organization in the Open Source Program Office at Red Hat, about this inspiring project and get his perspective on all things open source.

Can you tell us a little bit about The Open Organization project and your role with it?

As a Community Architect, I’ve been dispatched, if you will, by Red Hat to support the Open Organization community, pretty much with whatever they need. I’m a built-in designer, writer, event coordinator and general advocate who provides anything that will allow the project to thrive.

It's a community-led project, and members study and share strategies for building organizational cultures on principles like transparency, adaptability, collaboration, inclusivity and community. It’s a unique project because The Open Organization conducts itself like an open source software project, but the community is not writing code—we’re creating a new way of building and leading organizations. The community produces assets such as books, videos and guides that are all open source and openly licensed. Community contributors can edit and add chapters and case studies.

Within the community, members are constantly exploring the ways the open source model does and doesn’t work, from an organizational standpoint, when applied outside the domain of software development. So we’re operating on the cutting edge, exploring how far open source best practices can be expanded and applied.

That’s so interesting! An open source project that doesn’t work with any code! How did this project get started?

It began with a book. Jim Whitehurst was President and CEO of Red Hat, and wrote a book called The Open Organization, published by Harvard Business Review in 2015. Jim had a rather conventional corporate leadership background, and joining Red Hat in 2007 involved a major culture change for him. Open principles are foundational to our culture, business model, and success, and Jim explains in the book how he had to rethink his managerial and leadership practices to adjust to an open culture like Red Hat's. Through that process, he began to see how all organizations can benefit from embracing open principles.

The book had a somewhat narrow scope, based primarily on Jim’s experience, but as people were reading it, they began sharing their own stories about what it means to be an open organization in other industries. People really wanted to talk about this concept. So we built The Open Organization community for like-minded people to come together and discuss how open principles can be applied to all kinds of organizations today, not just software companies like Red Hat. Now it’s grown to be an upstream community that Red Hat continues to support with funding and resources.

You mentioned The Open Organization produces assets like books, videos and guides. Can you tell us more about those?

The Open Organization has published a collection of books that help leaders wanting to explore this new and innovative approach to organizational design and leadership. We've also recently launched OpenOrgTV for people who would rather watch than read, and a core group of contributors appear there monthly as part of our “Ask the Ambassadors” series, where they answer community-submitted questions about open organizations.

Who are these core contributors? What is the vision they hold that drives the work they do with The Open Organization?

The community roster shows the core group community contributors, known as The Open Organization Ambassadors. Ambassadors are the eyes and ears of the community within their respective industries and regions. Essentially, they are stewards of two definitions: the Open Organization Definition and the Open Leadership Definition, both of which outline specific characteristics and behaviors related to these core concepts. The ambassadors meet monthly to discuss community governance, individual projects and how to move the community forward. We also gather for an annual planning and strategy workshop, which is typically a part of the All Things Open conference.

For 2022, the primary goal that came out of the planning and strategy workshop was outreach. First, "outreach" in the sense of raising general awareness of The Open Organization project—helping people know that it even exists. We're doing great work, and too few people know about it. Additionally, we want to make sure people know that users can contribute, not just consume, so we're asking questions like, "Are we engaging enough with the people who are inspired by our work? Are the contributor pathways clear and evident? And how can we put forth a more concerted effort to expand diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the community?”

Red Hat has become a sponsor of OSI. Why was this an important alignment for you to make?

OSI is the steward of the Open Source Definition, much like the Open Organization community wrote and continues to maintain definitions of "open organization" and "open leadership." In that way, OSI is a big source of inspiration to The Open Organization community. Our definitions are meant to be flexible. People can ask for changes, file bugs against the definitions—that's the nature of open source. At Red Hat, we believe when openness wins, everyone wins. Sponsoring OSI is a win-win for us.

That’s so great, Bryan, and we couldn’t agree more. Now, how can people get involved with The Open Organization?

Yes, come and join us! Visit theopenorganization.org and theopenorganization.community, and follow along with our videos and discussions on theopenorganization.tv. Participation is as simple as asking a question or posing an organizational challenge you’re experiencing. The community is very forthcoming and eager to help. It truly feels like we’re all here to learn together how we might build a more open world.