Article: Working sans a CEO: Swedish company shows the way


Working sans a CEO: Swedish company shows the way

Can we really work without a CEO at the helm of affairs? A Swedish company says we can.
Working sans a CEO: Swedish company shows the way

Chief Executive Offer is unarguably the most coveted job title at any organisation; but employees at Crisp, a Swedish software consultancy organisation, mutually decided, three years ago, to do away with the position, simply because it seemed more practical, says a BBC report.

But why do they function without an apex leader at the helm of affairs; and without someone to guide them to achieve the overarching goals? The organisation of 40-employees used to change the CEO annually based on a staff vote up until a few years back, and the last time all the employees sat down together to list the roles and responsibilities of a CEO, they figured that there was nothing that they weren’t already doing themselves, or could share between them. 

Employees conduct four-day meetings twice or thrice in a year, and make collective decisions that impact everybody. Other times, employees are encouraged to decide for themselves, and in case of a conflict, there is always the board to reach out to. Crisp says that the biggest advantage of such a structure is agility that comes with fast-tracking decisions and responding faster to challenges. Since employees are free to take independent decisions – they take ownership without someone telling them to, and get to it. However, lack of permission doesn’t translate into lack of communication and discussion of ideas with each other. Even at times when a mistake has been made, or an erroneous decision taken, there is a fair chance given to provide an explanation, and then correct the same. The report states that the company is like a family, and “while nobody tells anyone exactly what to do, there is an unspoken understanding that you don’t mess up the house.” This structure of work might seem bizarre or directionless, without a leader at the top, but it seems to be working because staff satisfaction at the organisation – something that is gauged regularly – averages out to be 4.1/5.

The report goes onto discuss other examples of similar experiments, and points that such instances of ‘infinite freedom’ may not work in big organisations with several hundred employees, for it might end up creating chaos and confusion. Nonetheless, it raises several important questions, the biggest one being – Do you really need someone to tell you what to do at work? Depending on which side of the fence you are on, you might consider Crisp a radical evolution or lucky exception, but you cannot deny its existence. The fact that the company has functioned rather smoothly for the last three years without a CEO, and also that employees of several smaller organisations are willing to work ‘together’ and not ‘under’ a leader, might signify to an impending self-management wave of working in the future. 

Of course, limitations exist. The 40 employees of Crisp can get together frequently, but what about an organisation with over a 1,000 employees? What do you do when you do not get a clear majority on issues in this scenario? Or what if employees mistake freedom for unaccountability? These kinks will be smoothened out with time and experience, and as more organisations experiment with how to manage its employees, clearer, refined and improved answers will appear. Until then, organisations like Crisp stand out to be rather interesting examples of new age management techniques. If managers and leaders are somehow able to extract the best features of this model – ownership, decision-making, accountability, communication, cohesion – and embed them in the traditional management styles, maybe with lesser middle and senior managers, they can really rewrite the rules of how people will be working in the future. 

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Topics: C-Suite

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