Transform Your Organization Into A Network Of Teams - In 5 Steps
In previous articles we described one important trend that distinguishes progressive organizations from their traditional counterparts. This trend is the move from hierarchical command-and-control structures to a so-called Network of Teams.
We are often asked: How do you make this move? What does it look like? Where do you start? How long will it take? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. But we can learn from organizations that have already made it.
Blow up the hierarchy and build a Network of Teams
One inspiring example of such a transformation is the Dutch municipality, Hollands Kroon. We visited them last year, to learn how they did it. We asked how they changed an out-of-date pyramid organization of 9 unconnected departments into a network of 35 self-organizing teams. Here are the 5 steps they described:
The first step was to build a blueprint of the current way of working. All processes and their connections were mapped as best as they could be. This involved every employee to make sure results were accurate. These were collected via an online survey and in interviews.
It should not come as a surprise that this revealed many processes and methods that were in desperate need of improvement.
After this detailed analysis, a project group was formed. They drafted a report that featured the blueprint (above), input from employees, and a list of practices that could improve the organization. It gave management a detailed view of all current tasks and processes.
But more importantly, it suggested concrete steps to a future organization—all of which were based on a healthy dose of common sense. For example, it recommended which teams were needed to cover each task or process. It suggested how many people should be in each team. And it laid out the competencies needed by team members.
Using these recommendations, the management team drafted a ‘team profile’ for each task or process. These ‘profiles’ were the bare minimum. They only described the expertise needed in each new team, its key tasks, and the competencies required.
This is when they decided to abolish job descriptions. In the next step, employees applied to work in a function of their choice. The management team then built each new team based on candidate interest, capacity, and experience. (This last step is rather controversial. Instead, we would advocate allowing employees to choose and form their own teams.)
Then, each new ‘start-up‘ team spent two days getting acquainted. They talked about their vision of success, and how they wanted to treat each other. They didn’t talk about task related stuff.
This introductory period was used exclusively to discuss personal and team boundaries. They decided what they wanted to share with other members, and what they wanted to keep private. Do we eat together? Do we have a beer together? Do we share private problems? Do we laugh and cry together?
5. Road map
After this introduction period, management allowed the new teams three months to design their own road maps. Each map specified team goals, and their plans to track progress.
During one of our visits, the former Director of Operations of the municipality, Anja van der Horst, laughed when she recalling this part of the process. She explains: “When discussions and arguments [on the road maps] start, teams immediately get back to reality. They notice it’s not so easy to be a self-managing team. However, as long as you don’t interfere, they will surely figure it out themselves. These are valuable lessons in learning self-management.“
The teams presented their road maps to management team in two parts. The first covered the common, mandatory goals for every team to track and measure. The second was more focused—the specific goals for each team. Now the basics were in place, it was time to start working.
Getting things done
After completing these 5 steps, teams were told to start experimenting. And management took some radical steps, too. Private offices were destroyed, and time registration was abolished. They initiated a new, results-based culture, and invested in more efficient IT infrastructure to support the new way of working.
Five steps to blow up the organizational hierarchy and create a powerful Network of Teams.
The municipality successfully established a network of 35 self-organizing teams. Each consists of between 5 and 9 people. All are considered equal. There is no hierarchy of teams. Within each team, members are fully responsible for all tasks and results—including budgeting, hiring, and communication with other teams.
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The idea of self-management tends to be received with both interest and cynicism. Amongst the varied reactions, there is one recurring doubt that I hear time and time again. That doubt is deep. That doubt, is trust.