Breaking down walls: Transforming working practices to fulfil staff, scale, survive and adapt


'Today’s high-performing businesses increase their agility and speed to market by re-organising their employees into networks of small teams,' according to Perry Timms.

Perry Timms says 47% of the work that exists at the moment, won’t exist within the next five, 10 or 15 years. “There will be something about automation that will absolutely kick in, in a way that we can only imagine.”

(This is the fourth in a series of stories on workforce development in the produce industry.)

Rounding off the speaker programme at last week’s first-ever HR event for the UK fresh produce sector, Perry Timms, the Founder and ‘Chief Energy Officer’ at
People & Transformational HR (PTHR), outlined how working practices can be transformed in the future to allow staff to come to life, and, ultimately, drive any organisation to scale, survive and adapt. 

“We’re all grappling with the same stuff ... how can we put people in a position where they do their best work and they genuinely go home with a sense of fulfilment and we build a society where people are nicer to each other,” he explained. “It’s not about money. Money you need; but there is a purpose for which people and the organisation exist.”

With the future of work, including agriculture, becoming more “automated, digitised and miniaturised,” Timms said the workplace is becoming more “autonomous, aligned and agile.”

This, he said, would enable organisations and their workers to be more “creative, craftful and caring,” which will lead to more “design, innovation and learning.”

To explain his point, Timms talked about the world being on the cusp of “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” or Industry 4.0. This is where the advance of machine learning, algorithms, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) gives rise to a more automated world of work. 

Referring to an Oxford University statistic, Timms said 47% of the work that exists at the moment, won’t exist within the next five, 10 or 15 years. “There will be something about automation that will absolutely kick in, in a way that we can only imagine,” he noted. 

As a result, Timms said Industry 4.0 will allow organisations more space to care for human, community and planetary needs, or, in other words, for “wholeness.”

“The reason we are able to even talk about purpose and wholeness is because we can de-mechanise,” he explained. “We can start to loosen the grip that we have on people as a work-based commodity. So maybe we will see some of the predictions around leisure time, being more artistic and creative.”

However, Timms noted that will not be possible without some significant shifts.

“We want to see more autonomy, transparency, natural leadership, collaboration, creativity, diversity, purpose and meaning, etc.”

Timms used the example of music industry disrupter Spotify, which he said has “gotten so good” because, in a management structure sense, the company has “let go.”

“They've allowed people to be entrepreneurial, innovative, flexible, collective,” Timms explained.

Nearsoft, a tech company in Mexico, operates under a similar autonomous and agile model. 

“They don’t have any sense of board,” Timms noted, “They are a team of eight ... they cover each other’s absences and they help each other learn. It's the most collegial environment I’ve ever seen.” 

Other examples of workplaces that have become more creative, craftful and caring include US-based digital asset management company Widen in Wisconsin, which Timms described as operating in a “very community based” manner.

“They employ five people with learning disabilities, and they don’t give them token work,” he explained, adding that 85% of people who have learning disabilities can work, but are not able to get into the workplace.

“One role is called the Popcorn Manager who has an acute sense of when you need popcorn; when you’re stressed out or feeling tense ... It diffuses situations and helps people to focus back on their welfare. This company genuinely has an eye on eudaimonia or ‘human flourishing.’ ” 

US-based benefits provider Next Jump’s unique way of operating also has enabled an innovative and learning-based environment within the workplace.

“They don’t have any managers,” Timms explained. “When you join, you get a ‘learning partner’ ... and you can contract with people on a partnership basis. It’s more about choice and equity.

“Next Jump is very successful and highly regarded as one of the examples of a learning organisations leads me to think that there’s something in taking the manager layer out that’s enabled them to do that.”

Collaborative working in “nested teams,” rather than under a hierarchy, is another positive workplace practice that Timms would like to see introduced more broadly. 

“Today’s high-performing businesses increase their agility and speed to market by re-organising their employees into networks of small teams,” he pointed out. 

“They’re there because they part of an enterprise, something that means something to them and gives them a sense of strong connection to others and a reason to do what they do with good heart and real high capability.”

For example, staff at software developer Menlo in the USA work in pairs that look out for each other. “The pair philosophy means you trap errors in seconds rather than weeks,” Timms pointed out. “In 15 years, they’ve had no software errors. They obsess about quality.”

Timms also spoke at some length about his work with Salford City Council in the UK,  where teamwork has been “reinvented” under a self-managed approach to accelerate how they “get things done.”

As a result, it transformed a “stuttering,” three-year digital reform programme in just three months. 

“They adopted the way Spotify has been so successful in product development,” he pointed out.

“Teams were formed around people who wanted to make a difference irrespective of their role ... they called it 'squad working.' They built strategies that brought agile and sprint-based working to tackle change, transformational and innovation challenges.

“If you’ve got a problem, throw some collective endeavour at it, and not with your usual suspects.”

While Timms presented various tried-and-tested ideas, models and methodologies to supercharge HR, he also encouraged attendees to build their own future – one that works for their business and people – rather than simply following predictions or models.

View Perry’s presentation here.

To read PBUK’s other reports from the HR event, use the links below:

  • New HR event envisages future workplace, workforce and working practices
  • Succession planning vital for fresh produce business survival
  • Future workplace will combine people, digital technology, physical place


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