Ivy Global's Workplace Revolution: Navigating Growth Without Managers

Jorn van der Schaaf
Written by Jorn van der Schaaf February 18, 2024

Meet Ivy Global – a tech sector standout where students and entry-level professionals tackle projects that align with their knowledge and skill levels. This way, they gain valuable hands-on work experience under the professional guidance of Ivy's permanent staff, while companies can have projects executed at a relatively low cost.

To manage these processes effectively, inspired by the self-organization principles of the Brazilian company Semco, Ivy chose to establish the company in a modern way with the goal of emphasizing self-organization.

In a decade, Ivy has grown into a company with 170 employees, the majority of whom are students or part-timers, with 35 having permanent contracts. During this time, Ivy's internal ideas have shaped its operations, characterized by a lack of hierarchy. Here, there are no managers or directors; every team member is equal, empowered to make decisions, has freedom in their working methods, and is expected to take responsibility.

No managers, just teams

At Ivy Global, all permanent staff members play a role within the larger picture instead of having managers outline tasks for them. Ivy operates across three regions – Amsterdam, Delft, and Eindhoven – with each regional team managing its own sales, recruitment, operations, and finances. They are supported by Ivy-wide teams for communication, HR, finance, and long-term strategy. The long-term team ensures that there are annual sessions where permanent staff collectively determine the future strategy.

The elimination of the director role in the summer of 2022 marked a pivotal moment. In a bold move, Ivy Global phased out the director's role, challenging employees to collectively take on and distribute the responsibilities traditionally held by a single leader. The absence of a director for a year forced the team to collaboratively manage tasks, ensuring a shared sense of ownership and accountability.

"In the beginning, I was quite concerned about that," says project worker Edwin, who eventually became one of the initiators of the "Remove the director" project. "We looked at which tasks needed to be taken over and what needed to happen, especially legally. Based on that, we created an action list with sometimes very mundane things, such as certain mail being delivered to his home."

Conversely, the former director had no influence on the company's affairs for a year. He has now rejoined Ivy but has the same influence on the process as any other employee.

In a bold move, Ivy Global phased out the director's role, challenging employees to collectively take on and distribute the responsibilities traditionally held by a single leader.
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Decision-making

In 2019, Ivy established a framework with all employees – approximately ten at the time – outlining certain agreements. One example is that everyone is allowed to make decisions and investments, but for significant ones, team approval is required.

Over time, the decision-making process evolved, as sales employee Erik recounts. "In the beginning, I considered expenses of a hundred euros significant and presented every investment to the team. Nowadays, I only ask around if others agree when it's a thousand euros or more."

Decision-making at Ivy is now driven by consent. Active inquiries are made to check if anyone has a significant objection. If so, efforts are made to adjust the proposal accordingly. Decisions are made by those directly affected; small decisions are made individually, regional matters seek consensus within the region, and company-wide decisions involve consultation with all 35 employees.

Regions hold weekly meetings, and Ivy-wide decisions are discussed at the monthly Monday meeting. Over the past two years, more decisions are being made at the regional and team levels, and fewer are being deferred to the monthly Monday meeting. Regions and teams now decide to hire new people on their own, a topic that was discussed by the entire company less than two years ago. In 2023, eleven permanent employees were hired without it being an agenda item on the monthly Monday meeting.

Transparency

In Ivy's realm, transparency reigns supreme. If an employee has to make a decision normally made by a manager, they should have access to all the information that a manager would typically have, including salaries. That’s why all employees have unrestricted access to company data, fostering a culture of openness and shared information.

Setting your own salary

You might wonder: "No manager, no leadership. Who do you have a salary discussion with? Team finance?" Well, not necessarily. For six years, all employees have collectively determined their salaries during a joint session in January.

This democratic process involves two steps. First, the state of Ivy is assessed – is the company doing well, and what are the prospects? Then, employees are divided into groups, and each individual proposes their new salary. Once an agreement is reached, the proposals are presented to the entire group, considering the overall impact of these changes on the company. If the impact is too significant, the groups may need to reconsider their proposals.

Challenges

Ivy's growth comes with various challenges. The framework, created four years ago, has since incorporated over twenty new employees. It's crucial to onboard newcomers into the framework, ensuring it's more than words on paper but something they support and embody. The framework also needs to be adjusted to reflect the new reality, ideally evaluated annually and potentially becoming unnecessary over time.

Another challenge arises from transparency, with everyone having access to finance and data. However, ensuring that everyone actually views and interprets them correctly during decision-making remains a challenge. The same goes for organizational processes. Normally, a manager is responsible for the big picture view. Now, very few people have that overall view, potentially complicating decision-making.

In the end, the modern way of organizing is never complete. As a company, you continuously strive to solve new problems and innovate to ensure a dynamic and adaptive workplace. This can be quite challenging but also offers many new possibilities and creative developments.

To achieve this, at least fifteen of the 35 employees must be actively engaged in advancing Ivy – another challenge in itself that defines Ivy's unique and ever-evolving identity.

Written by Jorn van der Schaaf
Jorn van der Schaaf
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