Agile, flat, open organizations

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Agile, flat, open organizations

Agile, flat, open organizations

The move towards agile organizations started about five years ago in the U.S. In Europe and France, however, there is still a long way to go. Operating with an agile model requires a whole different mindset to build trust, get different technical functions and professional communities (marketing, customer service, etc.) to work together in a truly integrated manner, and join forces as a real team until a product is launched, and even throughout the product life cycle.

This is an organizational revolution, particularly in France, where business organizations are still very hierarchical, with weak collaborative spirit. Agile organizations must truly empower project leaders or “product owners” and give them real decision-making authority, develop them, and redefine their rapport with immediate superiors. This takes a very good caliber of “highly aligned, loosely coupled” managers who are able to make decisions and be driven in less formal settings. It also means that decisions must be made at the lower echelons, by small teams working according to fuzzier, more open and less restrictive rules.

Valve is a good illustration of the way liberated companies are now experimenting. Employees can select the projects on which they want to work. Rather than formally established reporting lines, leaders naturally emerge in the course of the work. Reconfigurable workspaces with easily moveable furniture allow people to mix more easily.

At Morning Star, which has adopted a ‘self-management’ philosophy, titles and hierarchical distinctions have been abolished. Authority is lateral, employee roles are defined by their assignments, and people take initiatives without directives.

The move to agile project model is eagerly awaited by upcoming generations. Three quarters of Generation Y prefer to work in small teams (Forbes, 10 Ways Millennials Are Creating the Future of Work). These “pizza teams” (no more than eight members, or the number that can be fed with two pizzas), may work at a single facility or across facilities, using increasingly common communication technologies to facilitate telecommuting or to simulate the presence of team members despite physical distance.

These teams increasingly include communities of talent found inside and outside the organization. In these teams, start-ups, alumni networks, and freelancers are integrated alongside employees.

Agility flattens the hierarchy. This trend is already perceptible, but less so in France. To be truly agile, companies should possess no more than four hierarchical levels and the workspace must be arranged to support engagement and collaboration, spontaneous meetings and interactions.

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