How can we raise the potential of our company without hierarchies and become more satisfied along the way?
By Dirk Huesmann, Chairman of the Board wirDesign.
Not only since Covid-19 has the question arisen: How do we want to work in the future? What are sustainable organisational models and what does a contemporary leadership culture look like? For us as a brand and design consultancy, the answer was transformation. In order to adapt to the changing demands of the market, wirDesign has also changed in recent years: From the classic organisational model to an open, hierarchy-free organisation strongly based on trust, self-organisation and personal responsibility.
On this “weDesign way to New Work” we have encountered many reservations and clichés, we have made mistakes but we have also done a lot right. This much should be said: there is no standard solution and no recipe for success for such a transformation. Here are five thoughts on why it worked for wirDesign – and maybe for your company too?
1. VUCA world: Of blue and red problems to solve
Blue tasks are tasks that can be automated, recurring tasks with a low level of complexity. Red tasks, on the other hand, are highly complex and cannot be solved by machines, such as our core business, the strategic development of a high-performance brand. Because the whole world is becoming more individual and global, the amount of blue problems is decreasing and red tasks are becoming more important. We live in a VUCA world today, which is deep red. Therefore, a business organisation must also be VUCA-compatible. At wirDesign, this means: no hierarchies, market-oriented, dynamic, adaptive and always changing.
Solution corridors for deep-red questions of the VUCA world do not emerge on the desk of a boss. They emerge in the interaction of an entire company.
2: Process: How to get in and out of the mess
We entered the process with big ideas, visions and beliefs. It started with a sketch by our coach: at the beginning there was a straight line, followed by a scribble that led back to a line. Everything clear so far? So we started an open process with all our colleagues, identified central questions and discussed on an open stage how we wanted and needed to work. These were the first steps in which the board did not decide, but in which everyone’s expertise was sought. This eight-month phase of mental (un)resolution finally culminated in a new phase of clarity.
This was followed by countless iterative test phases for micro-processes, so-called “flips”. So how do you get out of the mess? We went in worried with big ideas, wishes and concerns and came out happy with the flips I just mentioned.
The central insight for us: To reduce complexity, it’s all about the small steps, the testing, the trying out, the “Why not?”, the “Let’s try it”, the “That was probably no good”, the “That was good, we’ll keep doing that”.
3. Results: What is the good of this?
Let’s get down to business:
- We are more economical (this is what our business evaluation says).
- we are more customer-oriented (through more direct communication and dynamically adapting teams)
- we have excellent, i. e. implicit, knowledge management. With our open communication culture, a small idea has often turned into a big thing (such as the development of our own brand management system wirHub.)
- we are more technical, logical and dynamic (for example, we use our own software to optimise team composition, new products are created by young employees)
- we are more transparent (everyone has access to all figures at all times)
- we are more resilient (without hierarchies and with the jointly conceived technology strategy of home office, laptop and VPN well before 2020, we were able to switch from normal operation to Covid-19 mode from a standing start)
- we are more satisfied because we are more self-determined (self-organisation such as holidays, overtime, choice of location, etc.; we measure this satisfaction with regular team echo surveys).
Earn money and staying nice: Our new organisational model brings a new way of working together, grassroots democracy, exchange, dynamism and knowledge transfer.
4. Clichés: Limp comparisons and old buzzwords
“There must be bosses,” some employees even objected at the beginning, or “Who decides?” and “Aren’t the decision-making processes at wirDesign more cumbersome and lengthy?” we are often asked. Our experience proves the opposite: we decide much better and much faster today. Because we are much closer to our customers and their needs.
We often hear the well-known cliché: many cooks spoil the broth. Here, too, our experience shows that many cooks mean a lot of different expertise. And don’t these cooks much prefer to do something that really tastes good to them and their clients?
And that’s how we do it in our daily work:
- The positions of team leaders as an instance between project teams and agency management have been eliminated. The direct contact persons of wirDesign’s clients thus have even more scope for decision-making. The experience of the board members and creative directors is equally available to all teams and clients as coaching and consultation. The former supervisors can now concentrate 100% on client projects instead of doing administrative work.
- The teams calculate their services and their price independently, but of course not at a whim.
- Before decisions are made, colleagues are required to exchange ideas with others.
- New formats for knowledge exchange were introduced to share project-related knowledge with all interested colleagues, for example the “knowledge transfer at the lunch table”.
- The controlling system was revolutionised so that the individual teams have more responsibility and can act autonomously at the same time.
- The distribution of new clients takes place transparently and in dialogue with representatives of the individual teams.
- Changing client units are formed in which the colleagues take on different roles.
- Alternating team spokespersons stand up for their teams and clarify location-related issues in a joint meeting. Agency-wide decisions can also be made in this team spokesperson meeting.
- The staff appraisals have become feedback discussions at eye level.
5. Our appeal: Do it your way!
Of course, this kind of organisational model does not fit all companies and we know that. It will most likely not work to simply “copy” our way, because the model is 100% wirDesign customised. Our special corporate culture and eye-to-eye cooperation has always been in wirDesign’s DNA and on our “wirDesign way to New Work” we have taught ourselves everything.
But if we can do it, so can you!
Dare to find a path that works for you based on the non-hierarchical approach. Embrace New Work and find out how to combine an agile mindset with your individual organisational requirements and your corporate culture.
Dear bosses out there: Do you trust your employees to want to achieve the best for the company? Then give them that leap of faith! We highly recommend you to think about hierarchy reduction.
Seven first steps
- engage in dialogue: inform, but above all listen.
- change your perspective: take your concerns and fears seriously.
- don’t take yourself too seriously: relinquish control and trust your colleagues.
- be a role model yourself: don’t behave like a classic “leader” but live your image of change.
- nobody is perfect, not even you: tolerate mistakes and admit your own mistakes.
- create opportunities: leave room to create, this creates guardrails in which one likes to work and achieves the best results.
- be honest: eye level is not an end in itself, because the most successful results are achieved together through partnership with the clients and within the company.
Trust is the common ground and empowerment your most important role as a leader.
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