4 Key Ways to Facilitate Knowledge Sharing in a Highly Decentralized Organization
A few weeks ago, we finally had the lovely opportunity to visit a pioneering firm that's been on our Bucket List for quite some time. And let me tell you, they did not disappoint. With no headquarters, no centralized company strategy, and full financial and salary transparency, this company is breaking many of the traditional management rules. Let's dive in.
If you didn’t know by now, visiting pioneering firms to understand how they make work more fun is what we do. We started this ambitious journey in January 2016, and after 150+ visits to pioneers across the globe, it is still one of the things we enjoy most.
These visits are the perfect place to truly learn how to organize work differently. It helps us go beyond abstract theories and see through hysterical hypes and trendy fads.
But perhaps more importantly, It helps us continue learning how pioneers radically reinvent work for the better.
One of the pioneers on our Bucket List is a company we visited recently: foryouandyourcustomers. The company is active in many fields, including customer experience and digital and data services. But what makes them more interesting (to us, at least) is how they disrupt traditional management.
The 237 people who work at the company are organized into 20 autonomous “business cells.” Each cell is limited to 25 people and fully responsible for its own success. There is no headquarters, no centralized decision-making, and no overall company strategy.
There is clearly a lot we can go over about this company, but for this blog post, I’ll focus on one topic of how they work in particular: knowledge sharing in a decentralized organization.
Knowledge sharing in decentralized organizations
As companies become more decentralized, knowledge sharing can become challenging. It's not always easy to get information to the right people, and it can be difficult to ensure that insights from one part of the organization have the opportunity of adding value to another part.
Our visit to foryouandyourcustomers provided some valuable lessons.
1. Trust: let good things spread organically
Foryouandyourcustomers believes that good things will spread organically. If something works well for one team, there's a good chance it will naturally spread to others through word of mouth.
If it doesn't, it's probably not good enough to share.
Recently, Joost shared with me some fascinating findings from network theory research that connects to this rather nicely.
According to the research, a few key factors influence the sharing of information and resources within a network and their impact on a company's performance.
The most surprising one? Although you would expect the most effective approach to involve having team members of different teams be strongly connected with each other, this is not the case.
In fact, the research suggests that complex tasks are much easier to tackle when differing teams are only marginally connected. This approach allows for the moderation of information flow, empowering team members to explore unconventional solutions and ideas without being constrained by the limitations of other teams.
This is why many progressive organizations design their network of teams structure so that the connections between teams are weak by design.
By doing so, they create a protected environment where teams can cultivate their own unique ideas and solutions, challenging the status quo and driving growth without being stifled by more familiar yet often inferior solutions developed by other teams within the company.
2. Open space: Encourage knowledge sharing through passion
Foryouandyourcustomers organizes annual open space sessions that last for 3.5 days. During these sessions, people can share things they are passionate about, and others can join topics they feel are valuable to them.
Open space technology is a powerful tool for creating an environment where people are encouraged to share their knowledge and ideas. Learn more about this social technology here.
3. Weekly CEO meeting: Share resources and information
The organizational structure at foryouandyourcustomers is split up into 20 business cells, each with its own team of up to 25 members and a leader. Each business cell leader can join the weekly knowledge-sharing meeting.
The weekly meeting takes place on Monday morning and is used to inform on available resources and share any other relevant information. It is open for all other members of the organization to join. There's no agenda, so the most interesting topics will emerge naturally.
4. Communities of passion: Bring people together around specific interests
At foryouandyourcustomers, people can voluntarily come together around specific passions or interests, such as design or product development. This approach is similar to Spotify's guilds, which we’ve written about before.
These communities of passion create an environment where people can share their knowledge and learn from others who are passionate about the same things.
Knowledge sharing is critical for all organizations to operate effectively—and it's no different for highly decentralized ones. By trusting in organic sharing, creating open spaces for passion, holding regular CEO meetings, and fostering communities of passion, foryouandyourcustomers has found a way to make it work.
So, feel free to spread this knowledge far and wide! Or, as we've learned from foryouandyourcustomers, don’t share it if it's not interesting enough 😉.
*Soon, I'll share a more detailed case study on this unusual company. Join our newsletter below to receive the case study in your inbox as soon as it's published.