The trend towards more decentralized, autonomous management structures is still growing.
Here a list of successful companies relying on self organization at scale. The list covers many countries (US and Europe) and many different industries, demonstrating that self organization is not only applicable to tech companies.
Definition of self organization in the business context
In the context of business, self-organization refers to a management philosophy or approach that empowers employees to work autonomously and collaboratively, without the need for centralized direction or control. Self-organizing businesses rely on a culture of trust, transparency, and shared purpose to encourage innovation, creativity, and adaptability.
In a self-organizing business, employees have a high degree of autonomy and are responsible for making decisions and managing their own work. Rather than being micromanaged by managers, employees work together in self-managing teams to coordinate their efforts, share knowledge, and solve problems.
This approach is fosters greater engagement, ownership, and creativity among employees, as well as increased agility and responsiveness to changes in the business environment.
Self-organizing businesses are often associated with concepts such as agile management and holacracy, and have been adopted by a growing number of organizations seeking to create a more flexible and innovative work culture.
Top companies relying on self organization
Gore: Sponsors instead of bosses
Gore is a multi-billion dollar company with 10,000 staff, that produces a wide range of products, including medical devices, industrial components, and consumer goods. They are famous for their innovative textile “Gore Tex”.
Gore has developed a unique system of governance called the “dual lattice” that enables self-organization at scale. The dual lattice consists of a hierarchical structure of business units, each with their own leaders, as well as a separate lattice of communities where employees can self-organize around their shared interests and passions. This allows for a dynamic and flexible organization that can adapt quickly to changing market conditions and customer needs.
Employees are choosing “sponsors” (not bosses) and that there are “no chains of command”. Instead associates communicate directly with each other.
Gore has received numerous accolades for its financial performance and business practices. For example, the company has been named to Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list multiple times, and has also received recognition for its sustainability efforts and commitment to social responsibility.
Handelsbanken: High autonomy in bank subsidiaries
Handelsbanken is a Swedish bank that is known for its decentralized management structure. The bank has a network of more than 800 branches across several countries, and each branch operates as a self-contained unit with its own profit and loss responsibility. The bank’s approach to self-organization has helped it to achieve high levels of customer satisfaction and profitability.
Handelsbanken’s unique management approach is based on the principle of “the most important person”, which emphasizes the importance of customer relationships and local decision-making. The bank is organized into small, self-managing branches, each of which operates as a mini-bank with its own profit and loss responsibility. Branch managers have a high degree of autonomy and decision-making power, and are able to tailor their services and offerings to the specific needs of their local customers.
Handelsbanken’s self-organizing model has been credited with contributing to its success and stability, particularly during times of financial crisis. The bank has a strong reputation for financial soundness and customer service, and has received numerous awards and accolades for its business practices and management philosophy.
In addition to its decentralized model, Handelsbanken also places a strong emphasis on long-term relationships and ethical business practices.
Valve Corporation: Ad-hoc teams based on interests and expertise
Valve is a company that produces popular video games such as Half-Life and Portal, and it is known for its unique management style, which is based on the principles of self-organization.
Valve is a highly successful company, primarily due to the success of its digital distribution platform, Steam, which is the largest digital distribution platform for PC games in the world. In 2019, it was estimated that Steam had over 90 million active users per month and generated over $4.3 billion in revenue.
Valve has been recognized as one of the most innovative and successful companies in the video game industry, and its unique management approach has been studied and emulated by other companies around the world.
Valve’s organizational structure is flat, with no formal hierarchy or managers. Instead, employees are encouraged to form ad-hoc teams based on their interests and expertise, and to work on projects that they are passionate about. The company also places a strong emphasis on employee autonomy, with a policy of unlimited vacation time and no set work hours.
I invite you to take a look at their incredible handbook for new employees to taught in their unique culture: https://www.valvesoftware.com/en/publications
Alan: Working without Management
The health care startup was valued in Mai 2022 at 2,7 billion EUR which makes it one of the most successful startups in France.
Alan has a management culture that is characterized by autonomy, transparency, and collaboration. The company operates with a self-organizing structure, in which teams are empowered to make decisions and work independently to achieve their goals. This approach is supported by a flat hierarchy, open communication channels, and a focus on trust and accountability.
Transparency is a key aspect of Alan’s management culture. The company shares information openly and regularly with its employees, customers, and stakeholders, and encourages feedback and participation in decision-making processes.
Instead of traditional managers who control and direct the work of their teams, Alan has coaches who act as facilitators for their teams.
Each “crew” is then autonomous in defining shorter term objectives (6 or 7 week cycles) to ensure that they achieve the company’s goals.
DB Systel, IT: Leadership distributed in three roles
DB Systel, the IT subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn in Germany, has implemented self-organization since 2016. Decision-making power and authority is distributed across the organization, allowing for greater agility, innovation, and employee empowerment.
In DB Systel’s new organization, leadership within individual teams are distributed among three different roles:
- The Implementation Team handles the tasks that arise and largely organizes itself, including hiring of new employees.
- The Agility Master is selected by his team acts as team and personnel developer and provides the necessary structures that enable efficient work in self-organization.
- The Product owner ensures business development, profitability, and collects customer requirements. He is hired by his peers in the aggregation unit.
DB Systel has reported positive results from its implementation of self-organization, including increased employee engagement, faster decision-making, and greater innovation. The company has also noted that self organization has allowed it to respond more quickly to changing market conditions and customer needs.
More and more companies are relying on self-organization as they have recognized that employee empowerment is a key success factor. If you have suggestions for other companies to be added, I would be happy to complete the list.