Protos Software Entwickler im Gespräch

Self-organization at PROTOS

Let’s save the world – one company at a time

You probably know the situation: The project with a duration of many months and a very large budget needs a small but very important software license for 400 €. Unfortunately, there is no budget left and the decision, approval and order takes months. How can it be that a decision for 400 € slows down a project with a budget of several million euros? And this is certainly not an isolated case.

What often goes wrong in many companies?

  • Why do (important and unimportant) decisions take so long in classical hierarchical organizations? … although everyone knows exactly what would have to be done
  • Why are the lists of open issues getting longer and longer?
  • Why are many employees in some companies so dissatisfied?
  • Why are decisions made that are harmful to the company, the environment or society?

Answering these questions is becoming increasingly urgent in many companies, projects or teams. Self-organization and methods such as Sociocracy or Holacracy promise a way out.

Why do we strive for self-organization?

At PROTOS, we are currently on our way from a pure software service company to a product house. This brings with it a great many challenges. For example, we have to rebuild the entire business model while managing the growth.

So what exactly are our problems?

  • How can we manage growth and business model transformation?
  • How can we speed up?
  • How do we reduce the permanent overload of the managing directors as the most important bottlenecks?
  • How can we keep the intrinsic motivation of the team high?
  • And most importantly, where do we start to make the world a better place?

In our company!

But – can we achieve this with classic management methods?
Can self-organization be helpful?

The self-organization

If there is no longer any classic leadership, the first question that arises is: What is the task of leadership – even in the case of self-organization?

  • Make decisions
  • Moving together in the right direction
  • Prevent or resolve conflicts

In many decentralized organizations, circles take the place of hierarchical structures. Here, control is replaced by trust.

  • Many decisions are made in a decentralized manner and more quickly
  • Circles can change decentrally and much faster than (deep) hierarchies. Many have certainly already experienced how difficult structural changes are in classic organizations.

Which building blocks do we mainly use?

Sociocracy provides a huge set of methods as building blocks for self-organization.

Circles are semi-autonomous, self-controlling teams that are responsible for a specific topic (domain). Due to the separation of organization and content and the clear process of the circle meetings, they are usually very short. In the circles, communication and information take place and decisions are made decentrally.

Defined roles and responsibilities
Roles and responsibilities are defined in the circles. This allows processes to be very clearly defined and decisions to be further decentralized.

Consent is more effective for decision-making than dictatorship, democracy or consensus. No majority is required. This greatly accelerates the decision-making capability of the system. The motto for decisions: Good enough for now, safe enough to try

Next Actions and Projects
Defined activities (Next Actions) must always be "actionable", i.e. defined in such a way that action can actually be taken and the point completed.
All activities with more than one action are projects. This can be the organization of a presentation with 5 actions or the introduction of a sales database system with 1000 actions. In this way, there is always a clear hook for all actions – either in the circles or in the projects.

What difficulties did we have to or do we have to overcome?

Not for every topic are there already the right team members who also have motivation for the topic. This is also the case in classic organizations, but there decisions are often simply made against the motivation of the employees and the problem is thus pushed to the back. We usually have to solve the problem quickly and thoroughly through self-organization.
It takes time for people and the organization to get used to the new mechanisms. Much is learned only through regular practice in the organization.
A fair basic salary structure and company profit sharing are difficult topics – even in a decentralized organization. However, we have already decided on profit sharing very quickly and fairly in the team. This has shown us that we can also decide on topics that are very critical in many companies as a team.

We are currently testing decentralized employee reviews. As a managing director, I find it exciting to conduct a review with colleagues, but in the opposite direction. All managers should take this on. You learn a lot in the process!

Positive effects

  • Everyone has a voice and is heard – regular circle meetings lead to short but frequent communication. Every topic (tension) must be worked on in the circle.
  • Anyone can make decisions quickly
  • Everyone is highly informed about the current activities
  • High motivation in the team by taking over responsibility
  • Decisions and improvements happen without managers – The result: Decisions are made much faster and in most cases also better
  • Tidying up and optimization happens much more often – the organization becomes faster
  • Anyone can ask for help – even the CEO
  • The "WE" feeling becomes stronger
  • I (as managing director) have less work with decisions and can focus more on strategic things (for which there is also a circle)
  • … and much more!

An example on quick decisions: Our record for a very important feature change to our product from customer request to successful customer deployment: Less than 12 hours – and without significant negative impact on other issues. This is fun for both the customer and our development team!

What other key methods do we use?

While sociocracy is the central method for our organization, other methods are obviously needed.
To develop positioning and strategy, and to optimize processes, we use, for example, the bottleneck-focused strategy (EKS) and Getting-Things-Done (GTD). Both methods fit extremely well with our decentralized mechanisms, as both are based on principles that can be applied at all levels. It is important to keep this in mind when introducing new methods.

How to start and what to pay attention for?

  • Start small and then expand: From bottom to top or from little to much – the building blocks of sociocracy make it easy to get started
  • Develop mission, principles and values together: Only when you have a common goal and the framework is clear can you move together in the right direction
  • Transparency – everything is disclosed: We often hear: But you can’t disclose everything to everyone in the company. Yes you can and you should. Only transparency enables meaningful, decentralized decisions
  • Restructuring completely without participation of current management is difficult – traditional hierarchies often show allergic reactions to decentralized methods and reject them
  • Nothing is written in stone

… and the most important

Trust only works both ways! Dare to take the first step!

Book tips:

  • Reinventing Organizations / Frederic Laloux
  • Sociocracy 3.0 – The Novel / Jef Cumps
  • Holacracy: The New Management … / Brian J. Robertson
  • As a funny motivation: Wie sich Menschen organisieren, wenn ihnen keiner sagt, was sie tun sollen / Lars Vollmer (Unfortunately only available in German)