The Minimalist Organisation

Sometimes, events come together that produce a moment of clarity. You could call it synchronicity.  Lots of converging elements cut across from different directions to provide a moment of lucid thought.

By chance, I received an article from Cougar Automation, a company that live, work and breathe a minimalistic leadership structure.

At the same time, I’ve been working with a company in Aberdeenshire on a productivity project. One of the reasons the project was successful, was because the company had a minimal hierarchy with open communications and lots of collaborative problem-solving. Admittedly, they had no choice in the matter as the business had been reduced down to its very bones, but the results were significant.

It got me thinking about the similar elements of a minimalist organisation they had shared and what had made them successful in their endeavours?

Both companies had, by necessity or design, jettisoned a lot of the superfluous hierarchies in favour of more fluid social structures, creating more trust and shared values.

Unnecessary corporate structures:

At Cougar Automation, they have an election process whereby staff choose their own organisational leadership based on performance. This is essentially a bottom-up approach. They have no fancy titles and complex structures but are focused on business performance and customer experience, both of which are measured.

For the productivity project in Aberdeen, there was no money for excessive organisational structures and many of the management team enacted a multiplicity of tasks. The distance between the shop-floor and management was minimal. There was a necessity to value staff because of a limited pool of skilled replacements for those that decided to leave.

Collaboration:

Cougar Automation is an excellent example of a collaborative approach as they practice inclusive problem solving. Once a solution is decided upon, the team then vote, and the outcome is binding. Because they are all aware of the wider strategic objectives, they can work through any conflicts. Once the vote is taken, no-one can override that decision. There is no scenario where a senior manager makes the final decision or has a veto. The team votes and are accountable for the outcome.

Trust:

At Cougar Automation they take trust to a new level. Staff are able to work from whatever location they choose and can take up to 6 months unpaid leave a year. The caveat is that the work must get done on time and in full.

This is not simply an example of self-managed teams, as inclusion, collaboration and trust are intrinsic in the organisation’s structure. A self-managed team exists within a traditional organisation and are often set up for specific tasks. Decisions still go through the management structure. This is not the case with Cougar as the whole organisation is by definition, self-managed.

The benefits of a minimalist organisation:

It has been reported that higher levels of productivity are recorded for minimalist organisations. Higher levels of commitment and low absenteeism are prevalent in organisations adopting this kind of structure.

In addition, a traditional business structure is based on a ‘pull system.’  Managers have targets and KPIs that pull the organisation towards a target. Therefore, another great benefit of a minimalist approach is a push towards aspired goals from across the organisation.

In conclusion, minimalist organisations show measurable benefits across the board, but there are challenges. Adopting this structure cannot be window dressing. It must be a lifelong commitment from the whole organisation. For those who are careerists in traditional businesses, this may well be a step too far into the unknown.

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