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Adopting Innovative Ways to Manage Organizations

Organizations are discovering new innovative ways to manage work and unleash the potential of the people who are working there. The Dare Festival Antwerp 2014 focuses on organization design and culture for networked organizations, providing ideas and actionable practices. InfoQ is covering the conference with write-ups, Q&As and articles.

Frederic Laloux, author of reinventing the organization, took a sabbatical to research organizations that are using new management approaches. In his book he explored 12 organizations who are using fundamentally new ways to manage work and their employees.

We sense that something new is coming up in how organizations are being managed, new management paradigms are taking shape said Frederic. At the Dare festival he presented the example of Buurtzorg. Driven by the health insurance system in the Netherlands, the way that home care was provided was reorganized. Previously this was done by self employed nurses, now these nurses were grouped into organizations to have economies of scale and deploy the different skills that nurses have to lower healthcare costs.

Many nurses hated the new way the work was managed and the organizations they had to work in. They felt that they couldn’t connect with the many clients that they had to serve and didn’t have sufficient time to help people. Also the people didn’t like it, they had many different nurses that they didn’t know who were allowed to do only one thing.

Buurtzorg is a nonprofit Dutch organization founded in 2006. It is now the largest neighborhood nursing organization which provides home care to the elderly and sick. It was started by Jos de Blok and a team of nurses who wanted to work as self-organized teams. They decided that they didn’t need any managers, in stead they would divide the management tasks among themselves.

Nurses sit down and drink coffee with their clients, they take time to learn them. The work is organized within the team, most clients have only one or two nurses who can do all the tasks that are needed. Both the clients and nurses like it. The care given by Buurtzorg needs significantly less hour and there is also a reduction of medical costs due to solving or preventing problems earlier.

According to Frederic there are three fundamental breakthroughs in management that make a difference:

  1. Self-management - organizations can operate entirely without managers, no boss-subordinate relationships
  2. Wholeness - bringing together the ego and the deeper parts of the self
  3. Evolutionary purpose - people align their power and wisdom with the life force of the organization

Just removing managers from an organization results in chaos, it doesn’t support the organization or the people working there. You need to create a new system that replaces the pyramid said Frederic. There are changes needed to the structure, how decisions are taken, the flow of information, compensation and incentives, performance management, etc.

Frederic gave an example on decision taking. People often think that there are only two ways to do it, either via the hierarchy or using consensus. He proposed a third way which he calls the “advice process”. In this approach anybody can take any decision, provided that they seek advice from people which have expertise on the topic and from people who will have to live with the decision. This decision approach blends good things from hierarchical and consensus decision taking.

With no hierarchy I actually means no power hierarchies said Frederic. When we remove power hierarchy lots of natural hierarchies will emerge, which is good. The goal is not to make every equal but to make everybody powerful.

People often behave different at work than they do at home or when they are with friends. What we need is wholeness, in stead of separating the professional from the personal said Frederic. When we only show up with a small part of what we are, we are limiting potential and possibilities. We need to create workspaces where people feel safe, can drop their masks, and can feel at work as they feel at home.

To establish wholeness in organizations changes are needed to HR policies, like working hours, feedback and evaluation, onboarding, job titles and job descriptions.

Evolutionary organizations don’t talk about competition. Frederic stated that “if you take your purpose seriously there is no competition, because every organization aiming for the same purpose is an ally”. All people in an organization at all levels have to listen to build an understanding where the organization want to go.

If organizations want to develop an evolutionary purpose changes are needed to for instance strategies, the way that planning or budgeting is done, targets are used, recruitment, etc. Frederic gave the example that when the purpose of an organization is clear to everybody involved, then they don’t need any targets.

Another example on evolutionary purpose is from Buurtzorg, which started to do prevention work next to home care. It started when some of the nurses looked at accidents and came up with ways to prevent them. When the team asked the founder of Buurtzorg if a chance in strategy was needed he stated that he didn’t know it and didn’t want to decide on it. In stead he wanted nurses working at Buurtzorg to decide for themselves. He suggested the team to share their experiences and findings and ask others teams to also do that if they did any prevention tasks. As a result the prevention approach which is called Buurtzorg+ has spread throughout the country.

One of the attendants at the Dare festival asked how can organization can do transitions in the way they are managed? Even though the end picture is clear, the way to get there depends on the organization and the people said Frederic. There are however two conditions to make transitions happen:

  1. The CEO is on board and really want to do it
  2. The company board is supporting it

Only if these conditions are fulfilled organizations can adopt new innovative ways of management said Frederic.

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