How to enable leadership among self-organizing developers
1Chalmers University of Technology, Innovation and R&D Management; 2University of Stuttgart, Institute of Software Technology
The research focuses on large companies engaged in complex product development and how self-organizing within and between teams in these organizations can be enabled. More specifically it proposes how leadership as a distributed function (Wheelan and Johnston 1996, Crevani, Lindgren et al. 2010) can be enabled in this context.
Scholars report that product development methods known as ‘agile’ designed for a few teams that self-organize through mutual adjustment have become increasingly popular also in product development at scale both within hardware and software development (Dingsøyr, Moe et al. 2018, Rigby, Sutherland et al. 2018). As a result, many companies are transitioning their product development efforts from a hierarchical organizational design relying on direct supervision to flatter organizations that to a larger extent are based on mutual adjustment (Mintzberg 1989, Dikert, Paasivaara et al. 2016). This also entails a need to rethink the leader role from being tied to an individual leader (Crevani, Lindgren et al. 2010) to considering it as something that is contextually dependent and distributed (Alvesson and Spicer 2012).
The role of enabling leadership function in self-organizing teams is established within the most common framework for self-organizing teamwork in agile development (Lindsjørn et al. 2018). However, how such roles are performed in practice in large scale product development with hundreds of interdependent teams remains unexplored (Rolland et al. 2016).
The research targets professionals with the role to ensure a leadership function among individuals within and between interdependent teams. Two questions are asked:
- What patterns of practices are used by professionals having such roles?
- How do these patterns of practices influence the ability to self-organize within and between interdependent teams?
To answer the research questions qualitative methodology is employed. Ethnographic data from on-site fieldwork during a year and data from semi-structured interviews are used. The data collection is carried out within two large European companies that develop complex mechatronic products. The ethnographic data collection and corresponding analysis follows the advice given by Van Maanen (1979) and the semi-structured interviews are analyzed through a grounded theory approach as described by Glaser and Strauss (2017).
Each one of the authors has spent one year in one of the two companies respectively. The fieldwork is carried out with rich access to informants not only for scheduled interviews but also for coffee machine encounters and participative observation. One of the authors follows professionals who have the role of enabling leadership function in temporary constellations of developers. Developers in these constellations normally do not work together but are gathered to handle specific inter-team dependencies. The other author primarily follows professionals with the role of enabling leadership function within a specific team. Each of these teams are stable over time.
All together, in addition to the ethnographic data collection more than sixty semi-structured interviews were held both with team members and professionals with the role to enable leadership function in groups and teams.
The study clarifies practices of professionals having roles intended to enable leadership function both within teams and in temporary groups managing inter-team interdependencies. Both cases follow a contextually dependent pattern of practices ultimately aiming for the teams or groups to organize themselves therein distributing leadership among them.
The patterns of practices takes a starting point in facilitating the co-creation of a deliberate work process among members in the group and coach the group to maintain and adapt it to new circumstances. Moreover, practices also include the identification and facilitation of boundary conditions within which the need for leadership becomes clarified. On a day-to-day basis, practices are employed such as guidance and coaching to ensure that leadership is shared and excercised according to what makes most sense in a given situation. However, occasionally when the context so demands, the patterns of practices also include explicit acts of leadership, or followership, temporarily enacting the role of a member in the group or team.
By ensuring a deliberate co-created work process and clarifying the need for leadership the group attain a frame within which the appropriate distribution of leadership becomes clearer which in turn facilitates for the group to self-organize work.
Contribution to Scholarship
There is currently an ongoing scholarly discussion regarding how agile product development methods can be scaled (Rolland, Fitzgerald et al. 2016, Bick, Spohrer et al. 2017, Dingsøyr, Moe et al. 2018) to which this study contributes in clarifying the analogous functions of leadership both from an inter- and intra-team perspective and how to enable them. This also adds to the understanding of how companies can transition from bureaucratic plan-driven product development to agile approaches based on self-organization (Dikert, Paasivaara et al. 2016). Moreover, the study contributes with concrete examples for how leadership is co-created and non-hierarchical providing empirical support for such notions of leadership (Wheelan and Johnston 1996, Crevani, Lindgren et al. 2010, Blom and Alvesson 2014, Bäcklander 2018, Einola and Alvesson 2019).
Contribution to Practice
As more and more companies are transforming their plan-driven product development into agile approaches (Dikert, Paasivaara et al. 2016, Rigby, Sutherland et al. 2016, Rigby, Sutherland et al. 2018) the study can facilitate for managers fostered in hierarchical plan-driven product development organizations to better understand what forms of leadership that are needed in an organization based on self-organizing teams. Moreover, the study provides hands-on patterns of practices for how to enable such leadership function within groups and teams.
Agile product development is currently a subject of interest to R&D management scholars and practitioners (Rigby, Sutherland et al. 2016, Rigby, Sutherland et al. 2018). More specifically related to the specific track 9.4, the enabling of leadership function within and between groups facilitates self-organizing and flatter organizing at scale.
Alvesson, M. and A. Spicer (2012). "Critical leadership studies: The case for critical performativity." Human relations 65(3): 367-390.
Bick, S., et al. (2017). "Coordination Challenges in Large-Scale Software Development: A Case Study of Planning Misalignment in Hybrid Settings." IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering.
Blom, M. and M. Alvesson (2014). "Leadership On Demand: Followers as initiators and inhibitors of managerial leadership." Scandinavian Journal of Management 30(3): 344-357.
Bäcklander, G. (2018). "Doing complexity leadership theory: How agile coaches at Spotify practise enabling leadership." Creativity and Innovation Management.
Crevani, L., et al. (2010). "Leadership, not leaders: On the study of leadership as practices and interactions." Scandinavian Journal of Management 26(1): 77-86.
Dikert, K., et al. (2016). "Challenges and success factors for large-scale agile transformations: A systematic literature review." Journal of Systems and Software 119: 87-108.
Dingsøyr, T., et al. (2018). "Exploring software development at the very large-scale: a revelatory case study and research agenda for agile method adaptation." Empirical Software Engineering 23(1): 490-520.
Einola, K. and M. Alvesson (2019). "The making and unmaking of teams." Human relations: 0018726718812130.
Glaser, B. G. and A. L. Strauss (2017). Discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research, Routledge.
Lindsjørn, Y., et al. (2018). Teamwork Quality and Team Performance: Exploring Differences Between Small and Large Agile Projects. International Conference on Agile Software Development, Springer.
Mintzberg, H. (1989). The structuring of organizations. Readings in Strategic Management, Springer: 322-352.
Rigby, D. K., et al. (2018). "Agile at Scale." Harvard Business Review(May-June): 88-96.
Rigby, D. K., et al. (2016). "Embracing agile." Harvard Business Review 94(5): 40-50.
Rolland, K., et al. (2016). Problematizing agile in the large: alternative assumptions for large-scale agile development. 39th International Conference on Information Systems, Association for Information Systems (AIS).
Rolland, K. H., et al. (2016). "Problematizing agile in the large: alternative assumptions for large-scale agile development."
Van Maanen, J. (1979). "The fact of fiction in organizational ethnography." Administrative science quarterly 24(4): 539-550.
Wheelan, S. A. and F. Johnston (1996). "The role of informal member leaders in a system containing formal leaders." Small group research 27(1): 33-55.
Self-organization and human resources: towards a radical transformation of practices? An exploratory study of a set of SMEs
Ecole Polytechnique, France
Self-organization models such as sociocracy or holacracy aim to establish more autonomy. The main goal is the empowerment of individuals. By distributing responsibility, the firm would become more adaptable to uncertain environment, employees would be more motivated and more involved by giving a concrete meaning to their daily actions.
In the context of SMEs, the question of the articulation between power distribution and accountability processes is quite interesting. In fact, one of the characteristics of the SME is the centralization of management around the owner of the firm, both for current operations and for strategic decisions (Carland et al., 1984, Julien, 1993). This centrality is due to the essential nature of the proximity in the management of SMEs, which would induce a principle of hierarchization (Torrès, 2015). However, SMEs are also inspired and structured according to organizational models advocating more cooperative and a-hierarchical approaches, which considerably affects the HR management (Colle, Rodolphe et al., 2017, Gilbert, Raulet-Croset, Teglborg, 2017).
This apparent paradox questions how SMEs which have chosen to overcome their hierarchical structure manage human resources and structure HR processes (as recruitment, salary reassessments, participation in the results, personal development, internal communication, benefits and role assignment in the company).
This paper proposes to analyze the impact of holacracy on HR management on a set of SMEs: how collective and collaborative organizational models such as holacracy, which give more freedom to the employees, do they transform in depth (or even radically) the ways of dealing with human issues at work?
Our analysis is an exploratory study. It is based on a eighteen-month presence into a set of French SMEs. The main method that we used is direct observation of practices thank to a deep immersion in the daily life and in the concrete situations of work of former leaders and employees. We also conduct a serie of interviews. This work allow us to better understand the points of view and the objectives pursued by the actors.
Finally, after a description of the observed HR practices, we will seek to highlight them by confronting them with general models of self-organization.
Ulterïa: a group of SMEs who have experienced holacracy
Ulterïa is made up of four SMEs, all of which have made a transition to holacratic system (Bernstein et al., 2016). Composed of approximately 130 people, the organization operates in the store layout market and offers bulk sales solutions for organic food distribution. The HR issues are rich and heterogeneous given the variety of work situations. The employees are sometimes sedentary (offices, workshops) or nomad (commercial, installers). Having decided on the transition to holacracy in April 2016, the two former leaders have gradually distributed their authority to employees in the areas of human resources. One of the major consequences of this "transfer of accountability" was the structuring of organizations into so-called "fluid" teams (Bushe and Chu, 2011), which are characterized by a rotating membership, and which collectively deal with many issues specific to different companies. We propose to devote a more detailed analysis to teams dealing with HR issues, whose particularity lies in their hybridity and their inclusiveness. In fact, these teams involve a diversity of employees (HR managers, operational employee, sales people, IT people) who collectively participate in defining structuring HR processes for the company (recruitment, salary reassessment, annual interviews).
Toward a self-organized HR practices in SME?
Our empirical study seeks to understand how, SME try to practice a principle of collective responsibility in area of human resources management. Indeed, this experiment is not problem-free for SME moving towards self-organization, especially regarding the conservation of its organizational coherence.
On the one hand, the increasing freedom of action of employees, enhancing their initiatives, risks slowing down the convergence of individuals towards long-term collective orientations. To overcome this problem, integration structures, formal and informal, appear with the function of defining and disseminating the organizational mission, or purpose (Levillain, 2017). This kind of structures seek to maintain a coherence between the direction pursued by the organization and individuals’ goals. These reflections on the organizational sense also guide and impact the management of HR issues directly from the field.
On the other hand, the emphasis on self-organized modes of operation makes more and more unbearable any arbitrary decision or so called “fait accompli”. Therefore, the process of defining HR issues systematically seeks a large consensus from employees.
Contribution to Scholarship
Our empirical study seeks to understand how SMEs attempting to adopt self-management try to build new accountability chains, which are both collective and deliberative. With this article, we expect to contribute on how SMEs may overcome its natural centrality by defining and making some self-managed techniques in the HR areas. We also show that theses techniques of sel-organization are greatly influenced by the ability of the organization to disseminate its purpose and values and to handle collective intelligence processes.
Contribution to Practice
Our empirical study aims to describe precisely how SMEs set up techniques of self-organization regarding HR issues in order to clarify fundamental characteristics of HR self-management and to relate best practices in this matter.
This research show how the extension of the domain of accountability and freedom of action for the employee lead to new way of organizing and ajustment in a more collective and deliberative way. These transformations may be a way to experiment more democracy into firms.
Bernstein E., Binch J., Canner N., Lee M. (2016), "the big idea Beyond the Holacracy Hype, Harvard Business Review, 94 (7-8), pp. 38-49.
Buck J.A , Endenburg G. (2004), La sociocratie. Les forces créatives de l'auto-organisation.
Bushe G., Chu. A (2011), « Fluid teams: Solutions to the problems of unstable team membership », Organizationnal dynamics, 60., pp. 181-188.
Carland J.W., Hoy F., Boulton W.R. et Carland J.A.C. (1984), « Differentiating Entrepreneurs from Small Business Owners: a Conceptualization », Academy of Management Review, vol. 9, n° 2,
Carney, B. M., Getz, I. (2009). Freedom, Inc.: Free your employees and let them lead your business to higher productivity, profits, and growth. Crown Business.
Colle, R., Corbett-Etchevers, I., Defélix, C., Perea, C. & Richard, D. (2017). Innovation et qualité de vie au travail : les entreprises « libérées » tiennent-elles leurs promesses ?. Management & Avenir, 93(3).
Getz, I. (2009) “Liberating Leadership: How the Initiative-Freeing Radical Organizational Form has been Successfully Adopted.” California Management Review. 51/4 (Summer 2009), pp. 32-58
Gilbert, P., Raulet-Croset, N. & Teglborg, A. (2017). « L’entreprise libérée » : analyse de la diffusion d’un modèle managérial. Revue internationale de psychosociologie et de gestion des comportements organisationnels, vol. xxiii(56), 205-224.
Julien P.A. (1993), « Small Businesses as a Research Subject: Some Reflections on Knowledge of Small Businesses and its Effects on Economic Theory », Small Business Economics, vol. 5, n° 2, p. 157-167.
Laloux F. (2015), Reinventing Organizations : Vers des communautés de travail inspirées, Diateino, Paris.
Levillain K. (2017), L’entreprise à mission. Un modèle de gouvernance pour l’innovation, Vuibert, Paris.
Robertson B. J. (2016), La révolution Holacracy. Le système de management des entreprises performantes, Alisio, Paris.
Torrès, O. (2015). Petitesse des entreprises et grossissement des effets de proximité. Revue française de gestion, 253(8), 333-352
"Freedom form" companies and creative process: evidence or paradox?
ESCP Europe, France
An alternative organizational form currently stands out for the echo it encounters in the field: the "freedom form company", popularized by the publication of Isaac Getz and Brian Carney's book in 2009 "Freedom Inc." (Carney et Getz 2009), translated in French in 2012.
The notion of “freedom-form company” was defined by Isaac Getz in his 2009 academic article published in California Management Review (Getz 2009) in which he describes “an organizational form in which employees have complete freedom and responsibility to take actions that they, not their bosses, decide are best.”
Literature about “freedom-form” companies is so far mostly oriented toward characterization (Chabanet et al. 2017; Gilbert, Raulet-Croset, et Teglborg 2017), conceptual analyses (Brière 2017; Casalegno 2017; d’Iribarne 2017), leadership style (Holtz 2017), history and novelty of the concept (Gilbert, Teglborg, et Raulet-Croset 2017), but research aiming to evaluate the promises claimed by the advocates of the concept is still scarce (Colle et al. 2017).
In their research work, Colle and his colleagues (Colle et al. 2017) question two controversial and claimed impacts: greater innovation and quality of work life, with promising results.
By building on the work of Colle, we aim to further evaluate the impacts of the “freedom form”. The fundamentally social nature of the phenomenon of “freedom form” companies invites us to shift our field of observation to focus not on its impact on innovation, but on organizational creativity.
“What are the impacts of the “freedom form” on the organizational creativity process?”
The question is not so much to know whether “yes or no” the freedom form increases the number of new and useful ideas, as to understand how positive and negative effects compete with each other, into the creativity process.
Our research question invites to explore the interactions between the practices resulting from the freedom form and the creative process, and involves naturally a qualitative approach.
In this perspective, the theoretical framework developed by Fortwengel, based on the practice theory and particularly on structuration theory of Giddens (Fortwengel, Schüßler, et Sydow 2017), in the broader field of process studies, seems particularly promising here. This approach promotes a qualitative research, like ethnography, to observe how actors enact being creative, focusing on the process, not its outcome, as opposed to the traditional “variance based” creativity research.
This qualitative work will be based on a multiple case study design, involving ethnographic observations, semi-structured interviews and documentation.
Empirical material will be collected in 3 different companies, through 4 different teams. This methodological design will allow to explore the relationship between the freedom-form and the creativity, intended as an organizational process, based on social practices (Fortwengel, Schüßler, et Sydow 2017).
A first set of data was collected in March 2019 in one of the companies mentioned above, in the field of digital innovation, for which innovation is a major strategic challenge. A week of immersion allowed us to gather 13 interviews (developers, administrators, founders, consultants), documentation, to attend 8 meetings, to observe and experience the daily life of the team within their open space.
The qualitative data collected will be coded and analyzed using NVivo software to try to highlight the key elements of their creative process, the main managerial practices and to analyze their interdependencies.
The other data sets will be collected before the summer of 2019.
The NVivo analysis of this material is about to start. A significant part of the expected results will therefore be available for the conference.
Through the results, we hope to succeed in proposing a model of the studied phenomenon, visualizing the salient mechanisms, tensions and contradictions resulting from the encounter between a new organizational form and a process that is from now a key strategic asset of companies, helping leaders and managers to foster creativity in their organization
Contribution to Scholarship
We aim to contribute to two research fields. First, research about the “freedom-form” itself. It will help to describe and to understand the specificity of this new organizational concept, through a qualitative approach, offering ethnographic description of social practices from 3 companies, considered as “liberated” from various sectors, sizes and contexts, and above all focusing on one promise: higher organizational creativity.
The second field this work can contribute to is organizational creativity research. Focusing on creativity as a process, and proposing a model, this qualitative work can provide value to process studies of organizational creativity in two ways: first the creativity phenomenon is here embedded in a new kind of structure, enacted by an innovative set of social practices: the “freedom-form” company. Second, the methodological design is appropriate to develop our understanding of the creative process itself.
Contribution to Practice
Finally, through a better understanding of the “freedom-form” itself and its impact on one of the most strategic skill for companies in our current competitive environment, that is creativity, this work will help practitioners to gain more insight about their organizational transformation.
This research work is perfectly in line with the theme n°9 of the conference, concerning organizational innovation, and in particular this special track, which focuses on the issues of freedom in organizations, by approaching it from a contemporary and radical angle: that of liberated companies.
Amabile, Teresa M. 1988. « A model of creativity and innovation in organizations ». Research in Organizational Behavior 10: 123‑67.
Anderson, Neil, Kristina Potočnik, et Jing Zhou. 2014. « Innovation and Creativity in Organizations: A State-of-the-Science Review, Prospective Commentary, and Guiding Framework ». Journal of Management 40 (5): 1297‑1333. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206314527128.
Brière, Thibaud. 2017. « Les expériences de libération sous contrôle. Réflexions sur une nouvelle velléité de démocratie dans l’entreprise ». Revue internationale de psychosociologie et de gestion des comportements organisationnels XXIII (56): 265‑82.
Carney, Brian M., et Isaac Getz. 2009. Freedom, Inc.: Free your employees and let them lead your business to higher productivity, profits, and growth. Crown Business.
Casalegno, Jean-Claude. 2017. « L’entreprise libérée : une mythologie de contestation pour libérer l’imaginaire dans les organisations ? » Revue internationale de psychosociologie et de gestion des comportements organisationnels XXIII (56): 225‑45.
Chabanet, Didier, Rodolphe Colle, Isabelle Corbett-Etchevers, Christian Defélix, Céline Perea, et Damien Richard. 2017. « Il était une fois les entreprises « libérées » : de la généalogie d’un modèle à l’identification de ses conditions de développement ». Question(s) de management 19 (4): 55. https://doi.org/10.3917/qdm.174.0055.
Colle, Rodolphe, Isabelle Corbett-Etchevers, Christian Defélix, Céline Perea, et Damien Richard. 2017. « Innovation et qualité de vie au travail : les entreprises « libérées » tiennent-elles leurs promesses ? » Management & Avenir 93 (3): 161. https://doi.org/10.3917/mav.093.0161.
Fernez-Walch, Sandrine, et François Romon. 2013. Management de l’innovation de la stratégie aux projets. Paris: Vuibert.
Fortwengel, Johann, Elke Schüßler, et Jörg Sydow. 2017. « Studying Organizational Creativity as Process: Fluidity or Duality?: Organizational Creativity as Process ». Creativity and Innovation Management 26 (1): 5‑16. https://doi.org/10.1111/caim.12187.
Getz, Isaac. 2009. « Liberating leadership: how the initiative-freeing radical organizational form has been successfully adopted ». California Management Review 51 (4): 32‑58.
Gilbert, Patrick, Nathalie Raulet-Croset, et Ann-Charlotte Teglborg. 2017. « “L’entreprise libérée” : analyse de la diffusion d’un modèle managérial ». Revue internationale de psychosociologie et de gestion des comportements organisationnels XXIII (56): 205‑24.
Gilbert, Patrick, Ann-Charlotte Teglborg, et Nathalie Raulet-Croset. 2017. « L’entreprise libérée, innovation radicale ou simple avatar du management participatif ? » Annales des Mines - Gérer et comprendre 127 (1): 38‑49.
Holtz, Théo. 2017. « Mutations du leadership dans une entreprise en voie de libération ». Revue internationale de psychosociologie et de gestion des comportements organisationnels XXIII (56): 125‑40.
Iribarne, Alain d’. 2017. « L’entreprise libérée et les “talents” : un avènement annonce ? » Revue internationale de psychosociologie et de gestion des comportements organisationnels XXIII (56): 247‑64.
Organizational innovation situation analysis and search of new measurement framework
University of Latvia
In globalised world organizational innovation is one of the key factors for the development of the company and perceiving its competitiveness. Enterprises deal with the difficulty of identifying factors and elements for successful implementation of the organizational innovation.
According to a recent scientific debate, it is a challenge to find the perfect metric as organizational innovation measurement is complicated to perform. There are frameworks of measurement of organizational innovations (for example, Dominant Diamond model, Innovation Funnel, Innovation Value Chain and Oslo Manual), but they are proved to have drawbacks that makes it difficult to perform analysis.
This paper looks at different definitions and metrics of organizational innovations applicable with the system approach, coming to the conclusion that for development of effective innovation measurement it is needed to develop a conceptual framework with 5 dimensions: 1) Innovation ability and strategy; (2) Innovation Management ability; (3) Linkages and accessing knowledge; (4) Organization and culture; (5) Innovation Results.
Recent studies have drawn necessity to develop a framework that will avoid disadvantages of existing models that is the main purpose of this paper.
The purpose of this paper is to build a new framework of analysis of organizational innovation to test this model and use it in the further studies.
To identify current situation in the Baltic States and to understand where to test the model, authors have performed multidimensional analysis of the fields of innovative business by using correlation and regression analysis according to the indicators of Finance, Employment and Investments. These indicators were chosen on the basis of European Union studies and their results that are generally accepted and recognized as appropriate.
The data of the Central Statistical Bureau and the Bank of Latvia has been used. Main conclusions of this study are that Latvia falls behind other Baltic States in EU Innovation rank and main reason is low level of innovations; Analyzing correlation between number of employees, turnover, investment in ICT and venture investments showed only relationship between number of employees and investment in ICT, regression analysis showed that 80% of investment in ICT is explained by an increase in the number of employees that supports given model, but the field of an enterprise does not have any effect on the success of an innovative companies.
Results can be used for measuring organizational innovation more effectively as well as implementation of organizational innovations, developed model is the next step for the research that is planned to perform, as well further researchers could use the model.
Contribution to Scholarship
Several studies have pointed out few elements necessary to look at – data usable not only for analysis itself but for the policy making as well; and measurement framework to capture the organizational innovations. This paper proposes more successful framework for organizational innovation measurement, taking into account main criticisms from the previous debate.
Contribution to Practice
This study opens up further avenue for defining and measuring organizational innovations. But proposing better an more precise measurement frameworks, it will be possible to reach more coherent conclusions and suggestions for business organizations struggling in search of more innovations in order to compete in volatile environment.
This paper address one of the key element in the field of organizational innovation research - measurement framework.
EU commission, 2017. European Innovation Scoreboard. [Online] Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/growth/industry/innovation/facts-figures/scoreboards_en [Accessed 10 March 2018].
Fredriksson, N., Wikberg, J., 2015. The Relationship Between R&D Spending And Firm Economic Performance A Regression Study Of Firms In The Industrial Equipment Manufacturing Industry. Chalmers University Of Technology Gothenburg, Sweden 2015.
Gault, F., 2016. Defining and Measuring Innovation in all Sectors of the Economy: Policy Relevance. OECD Blue Sky Forum III, Ghent, Belgium, September 19-21 2016.
Triguero, A., Córcoles, D., & Cuerva, M. C., 2013. Differences in in-novation between food and manufacturing firms: An analysis of persistence. Agribusiness, 29(3), pp. 273-292.
Utterback, J. M., 1994. Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation: How Companies Can Seize Opportunities in the Face of Technological Change. Harvard Business School Press.