A blueprint for an autonomous organization

Jan 24, 2017 | Future, Leadership, Work

photo credit: Charlie.Wales Time is Relative via photopin (license)

I have always been fascinated with how people work together in an organization, what makes them tick and especially what can make team grind to a halt.

Since I started my startup (Jolla) I have been reading all kinds of things about it and have had the luck to share the journey with some pretty talented people that cared as much as I did in making things work. By the end of 2015 I left that company but the question of “how should a modern company work” stayed with me for long.

During the past five years we tried all kinds of things and tried to perfect the imperfect art of organizing people into a self-driven, autonomous group of highly motivated and engaged professionals.

After so long I have decided to start writing down my thoughts on it.

Engagement

Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. In their polls those in U.S. that are “engaged at work” vary between 28% and 36% during the past 3 years.

A meta-study conducted by Gallup shows that those teams where employees are more engaged show that top-quartile teams outperform bottom-quartile teams: 10% in customer loyalty/engagement, 21% in profitability, 20% in productivity.

Shortly that means that employee engagement has a direct effect on the bottom line of your company (and improves also the quality of life of the employees themselves).

That’s why I think it’s paramount to rethink how modern organizations are structured: you get better engagement, you get happier employees, you get better numbers and this is a self-reinforcing cycle.

The drivers

There is plenty of research that supports the notion that people are craving Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose in work and life. Those drivers contribute to building a Trust based organization.

Leadership

While discussing this topic with someone who knows more than I do about it I found myself saying the following:

“There’s not a lack of leadership intended as the one demonstrated by the person that claims to have all the solutions but on the contrary there is a lack of leadership intended as the one shown by the person that knows she doesn’t and is willing to work together with others but offers herself to guide people through the tortuous path of finding them”

To find those leaders is the real quest in modern organizational (and not only) world. What requires confidence and self-awareness is not to say that you have the solution but to admit that you don’t.

The autonomous organization

Based on those assumptions I think there is a way to engineer processes and structures that actually encourage the development of a trust based organization.

Such organization is dubbed in the paper I am publishing below “Autonomous Organization” because the beast resulting from adopting the processes and tactics described there does not require constant command and control but the checks and balances of the organization itself make it readjust its focus and targets (as well as the resource allocation) dynamically by distributing decision making power throughout the organization itself. So “autonomous” has to be intended not as “manager-less” but as “manager-distributed”.

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