What if you would organize your company without any management? Without any rules? Would that work? At Finext, the Netherlands, we make it work for already 20 years. Finext provides consultancy services in Holland. At the beginning of 2016, it has about 150 employees. And about 100 owners.
Finext does not have a CEO, does not have any management at all. Neither do we have things like staff departments, salary scales, or functional job descriptions. We don't have a lot, for that matter. What we do have? Specialized, self-organizing teams which have been very profitable for already almost 20 years.
Please feel free to read along, and see how my colleagues and me at Finext like to organize ourselves, based on trust, freedom, responsibility and transparancy.
Finext is a financial consultancy firm operating from Voorburg, The Netherlands. On january 1st, 2016, about 150 colleagues spread out over about 20 self-organizing teams, help their customers in areas such as performance management, business and financial control, project management, process improvements, etc.
We do this for a large range of industries in Holland and abroad, such as telecom, bankin and insurance, industry, technology, healthcare, retail, etc. Generally speaking, we provide services to the 500 largest organizations in the Netherlands.
Finext used to be a part of The Vision Web; an IT company taken over by Ordina in 2004. As off that date, Finext was an independent subsidiary of Ordina. In 2011, 90 colleagues bought the company; probably the world's first PBO (Profesisonal Buy-Out).
One of the founders of Finext has a nice anekdote on how he came up with the idea to start a company where things would be ''normal'' and where things were to be done ''like you do at home''.
After his graduation, he started working for a company which implemented financial software. His first job as a consultant brought him to a large office building - Finance on the 5th floor, IT on the 4th floor. People from both the finance department and the IT department refused to talk with eachother. They also refused to walk up to the 5th, or walk down to the 4th. Neither did they see that they needed eachother; the people working in the finance department (smart, educated people) crawled their way through tons of spreadsheets every month. IT could have made their life much easier.
So, this guy decided to start a company. To help financials get their work done easier. And this company should be a place like home. It should be normal. Let's work principle based, instead of rule based.
From the start of Finext about 20 years ago, we have governed ourselves based on principles. No managers; professionals are perfectly capable of running their own business. No staff departments; each team does their own HR, marketing & sales and monthly financial overview. We don't want to end up in a situation where 'somebody from HR' decides who is going to be our next new colleague. Neither do we want to be evaluated by somebody who doesn't actually work with us. So we evaluate ourselves. Talents above structures: the talents of professionals can never be less important than the structure of the company. So if professionals want to switch to another team, or want to leave; no problem! Responsibility and freedom are very important; so everybody has the key to our office building. And of course, we breathe transparancy. Why keep information on salaries, team sales turnover, costs, etc. hidden from other teams? Aren't we all here for the same goal and purpose?
And of course, we still learn. What works, and what doesn't. Recently we have been researched by a PHD student, who looked at our level of self-organization. Yes, we can still improve. But at the same time, we are happy that more and more similar companies become well-know examples of management innovation: Semco from Brazil, Valve from the USA, Buurtzorg from Holland, and the list is growing.
The key criterium for solving any issue is quite easy; interact and connect. Share your values, talk about them, provide feedback, be transparant, and continue. And another implementation must-do: buy a coffee machine, and place it in the middle of your office.
Naturally, we are bound by dutch law. It always puts a smile on our faces, that time of the year when the accountants arrive. They find our company weird and funny. The chamber of commerce has a few 'directors' on paper, but i couldn't really tell you who they are. As it's not important inside, no need to remember.
Metrics such as employee satisfaction, illness-related absence and Net Promotor Score are significantly better, compared to other organizations. Furthermore, our customers acknowledge the fact that we are a little different and find it something positive, often not knowing the background of it. During the years of economic crisis, we have managed to stay on top of things and remain profitable every year.
On a more personal note, i would like to say that working at this company gives me much job satisfaction. Receiving trust from the first second i walked in, is something great. Working life (approx between 25-65, in the Netherlands) is about 1/3 of the hours you don't sleep, so better make it worth your while!
Some of the lessons we have learned:
Rules and procedures can be replaced by values. They are just as effective. Maybe even more effective, in 2016. Values require people to think, rules do not.
Keep the size of your team 10 p. max. This is kind of a natural limit; a meeting with 15 people will never be very effective. This principle is also supported in agile project management practices.
Be transparant. If you want people to be responsible and provide feedback to eachother, transparancy is key.
Practice in giving feedback. It's very important that people take the responsibility and feel the liberty to talk to colleagues about the shared values, in any kind of situation. If i forget to clean my desk when leaving, my colleagues will definitely say something about it.
All 150 Finext colleagues. They make it work, every day.
Unfortunately, there isn't much material available in english yet. We are working on it, as self-organization is a buzz word in management literature these days.
However, some interesting books you might want to read or see, although most of you probably already read them:
Unboss by Lars Kolind
Maverick by Ricardo Semler
And i have found a single website with an article on our company, made by two students: