Technological progress and, in particular, digitization is progressing with ever-increasing pace. Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Social Networks, Smartphones, and many more have changed significantly the way we live and work. At the same time, access to technology has become considerably easier, on the one hand due to a massive decline in prices, and on the other hand through a significant simplification of use. Increasing productivity can barely keep pace with the technological change.
Against this background, it is therefore understandable that requirements for businesses are also undergoing change. Interestingly enough, individuals are much better able to adapt to technological change than companies usually do. Adaptability becomes a critical success factor for companies.
However, classic hierarchical organizational forms of businesses are the exact opposite: they are optimized for efficiency and productivity, and highly successful in static environments. However, hierarchical organizations usually fail under dynamic conditions and high pressure for change. Even the transformational projects that are often observed and the high-frequency reorganizations of companies ultimately only tackle symptoms without solving the problem at its root.
Hierarchical organizations are based on fixed roles, job descriptions, and rules. They have been designed more than 100 years ago for stable markets and long-term planning horizons. They have been very successful for decades, especially for large companies. However, over time, there has been a significant increase in bureaucracy and internal politics. Hierarchical companies have proven to be inherently stable. A few “brakes” in the organization are enough to undermine no matter how well-intentioned processes of change are. We are convinced that hierarchical forms of organization are, in principle, not suitable for developing adaptability to the level required today.
But what could be a better alternative? We believe that new forms of organization must be radically different: there are no longer fixed roles, instead, tasks and skills are considered as the key elements. The organization of work must be designed so that tasks on the one hand and skills on the other hand come together as precisely as possible, all at the right time. For this purpose, “marketplaces” are suitable, where offer (i.e.: skills) and demand (i.e.: tasks) meet according to the free market economy principle. In a first step, this marketplace will be generally in-house, but with a higher degree of maturity it is just as conceivable that the marketplace will be designed in a public and freely accessible way.
This is initially a theoretical conceptual model. Can it work in practice? Of course, every company (as well as in traditional forms of organization) must find its own individual way. And yes, there are companies that have already put this approach into practice.
At Accesa, a full-service IT service provider, this approach has been implemented as follows: The organization is structured in the form of so-called cells, each cell serving a particular purpose and interacting with other cells just as in a form of an organism. Every employee is a member of at least one cell. There are no longer hierarchical structures such as departments, etc. Cells can be formed or removed, as needed.
A need may arise from a request from the market or from customers, or there may be a need, for example, for a support function. There are business unit cells that are fully responsible for the delivery of projects. There are Competence Center Cells that consolidate the functional know-how and are responsible for the personal and professional development of employees. This form of organization sets specific requirements on employees, as they demand a high degree of self-responsibility and self-organization. On the other hand, they are rewarded with a lot of freedom and extensive opportunities for development.
We believe that, in the future, those companies will have an advantage which are able to adapt quickly and flexibly as compared to companies that are highly efficient but inflexible and static.
“As an agile and innovative IT service provider, we need to be highly adaptable. In doing so, our cell-based organization helps us considerably.”