Bas Reus' quest on self-organization and online collaborative spaces

The democratic organization

Posted in self-organization by Bas Reus on August 10, 2009

Last week I stumbled on a presentation of Netflix about their company culture. Almost instant I felt the people that made this ‘reference guide on their freedom and responsibility culture’ was very much inspired by the story of Ricardo Semler about his company Semco in his book Maverick which I’m reading at the moment. It is indeed a very inspiring book. Both companies seem to have found ways to empower employees to think and decide by themselves instead of being managed and judged by others, usually a higher level of management. At Semco, you can decide your own working hours, your own clothes, there are very little to no rules that prevent you from doing what you think is best, many can set their own salary but all salaries are known to everybody else, and so on.

The employees sort of organize themselves. They are given to power and trust to do so.  Everything is very democratic, everybody has a say in what should be decided on the workplace. The most existing organizational structures are outdated according to Semler, especially classic hierarchical organizations. Semler really changed the organization which was first led by his father. Of course, this change did not became reality very fast, because Semler himself made many mistakes at first, and many employees that stood in the way were fired. But eventually he learned and the employees learned, and now it’s a very successful company.

If we look at the problem statement for this quest, one of the important parts is ‘how to […] empower employees for self-organization?’ I think we can learn so much from theory, but we can learn so much more from real examples such as Semco. Employees at Semco really have the power to self-organize, and they feel and know they are trusted to act like it. Trust is very important. Another related value which seems important is freedom. Freedom to decide when you arrive at work, what your salary is, and so on. At Semco it seems that the given trust and freedom results in being responsible for delivering high quality products. It really benefits the company.

When I have  finished reading the book, I will write another post about it and what I learned from it. At this point it is interesting to show the presentation of Netflix. Some values are very similar to Semco, but others are very different as well. What is inspiring, is that both companies seem to be very different from existing organizations.

5 Responses

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  1. Harold Jarche said, on August 18, 2009 at 17:46

    Semler’s work and organisational model is inspiring. Are you familiar with the framework of “wirearchy”? It may be of interest.

  2. Bas Reus said, on August 18, 2009 at 17:52

    Hi Harold.

    No I’m not familiar with the wirearchy framework. Thanks for letting me know.

  3. Harold Jarche » Friday’s Finds #14 said, on August 21, 2009 at 14:04

    […] Our collective challenge: how to empower workers for self-organization […]

  4. […] we move to a freelance, role-based, self-managed organisation; or we somehow find a way to measure our time spent collaborating and networking…or a bit of […]

  5. […] describe networked forms of organization, such as peer-to-peer and panarchy. Another one, one that Harold Jarche pointed me to earlier in my quest, is wirearchy. At the time Harold mentioned this, I’d never […]


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