Working in a self-steering organization
Schuberg Philis has been a self-steering organization of experts from the start. Often questions arise as to how this works. That's to be expected, since this way of organizing is substantially different to what many people are used to. We talk with Julian Hessels, Marcel A' Campo and Gert Kremer about our working methods and how this pans out in practice. How does it impact our customers?
The way we make decisions
Julian: "We start with the principle of advised consent. If you've got an idea or proposal, it's your responsibility to ask for feedback from people who you know are experts on the topic or deal with it frequently. Over time you learn to recognize when you have enough support and can therefore take the plan further. There are no hard rules to this; it's a matter of developing experience in this process. The outcome may lead to further refinements or coming up with something better together."
"We trust the judgment of the experts in the team rather than waiting for a management decision."
Julian: "We trust the judgment of the experts in the team rather than waiting for a 'management decision'. After all, you take important decisions in your personal 'life and we trust you can do the same at Schuberg Philis. We're professionals and we sort things out together."
Gert: "We don't have the disadvantages of a hierarchic organization in which there are long lines you have to work through before anything gets done. We have the right – and the duty (with freedom comes great responsibility) – to deal with issues directly. We can also make promises about the future. Customers can take a question, which would normally be put to a manager, to the engineers who – as experts – set to work immediately within a team. Customers like the fact that they can speak with everyone. However, we do adapt to the customer's hierarchy and structure: there are logical roles within the team. No management doesn't mean no leadership."
If there's no management layer, why do we have Managing Directors? Marcel: "We don't have a management layer, but we do have (natural) leadership roles within our teams. In other words, we recognize different roles across processes and customer-facing activities." These roles have names that give our customers clarity. A Managing Director will in practice play a significant role in strategic dialogs with customers. A Managing Director is part of the team and as such subject to the process of advised consent.
In case of conflict
Julian: "In the event of a difference of opinion or a conflict, everyone has a responsibility to speak up. You must be transparent – you owe it to yourself to raise an issue when you don't agree. Understanding is often the key to the solution. That means that you have to invest time, get involved, and talk it through with everyone involved to find a solution. It's highly appreciated when you show reflection and vulnerability during such conflicts. By doing this you will have a bigger impact and the overall confidence of the team will grow."
"What makes the difference? Skills, the ability to trust others, your background with a previous employer, and self-reliance."
Onboarding well organized
Marcel: "The first striking point is that the onboarding is well organized. Then you notice the high level of involvement and the expertise of the people you meet." Gert: "Some people feel at home immediately, while others may have difficulty getting used to it. I've had new hires in my team who came to me, asking: "Are you my boss? Well – no. Who then? We don't work with bosses." Some people immediately find their place in this way of working, while others may need some more time." What makes the difference? "Skills, the ability to trust others, your background with a previous employer, and self-reliance. Taking responsibility for your life. Perhaps it helps if you've worked in a startup for example – somewhere where you also had fewer rigid boundaries."
Marcel: "We want everyone to find their way and enable them to fully contribute with the expertise they bring to the table. You have to learn to seize your moment to be heard, and that's not always easy for everybody." Gert: "We've now developed ways to ensure that more people are heard, and not just those who talk the loudest. We regularly do a consent round in the team, with the result that more opinions are voiced and heard. We pay attention to the composition of teams. You want everyone to be heard. To succeed at Schuberg you must be both independent and willing to cooperate. Because no-one knows everything."
Marcel: "After you've gone through your first days of onboarding, you are trusted. With trust comes responsibility: Slacking off is almost unheard of. If it happens, the team will certainly point it out." Gert: "If you look at other organizations, you really appreciate this system. You get all the space you need to develop yourself. You are your only limitation. You can decide yourself what courses you want to take, as long as you discuss it with your team." This has made Schuberg Philis the place to be for engineers, a place where they can keep developing, without having to become a manager.
Impact on our customers
Gert: "Many IT projects involve the phases 'plan, build, run.' In other companies, this is mostly done by different departments, with handovers in which critical information is sometimes lost. With us, all three phases take place in the same team. Because the engineers are part of the discussions with the customer from the very beginning, they have the entire context of what they need to build and what the customer's needs are. That context is also a key factor if there's a serious challenge or incident. With other organizations, you may initially have to go through the 'first lines of response' – often less experienced staff who provide a buffer for the senior engineers. That can waste precious time. At Schuberg Philis all the necessary knowledge is directly available in the team. Our engineers in the Customer Teams know all the details and have the expertise and authority to act. That saves time that would otherwise be required to consult and upscale." Marcel: "I've noticed that customers trust us and respect our professional opinion. You develop a trusted advisor role."
We believe we can always remain relevant by being the best partner. Gert: "We get a lot of value from the partnerships with our customers. Openness, diversity, and learning from one another are part of our idea of self-steering teams. We influence one another and our customers are part of this. There is a mutual enrichment."