The path to an agile-learning company - a personal experience report

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Seeing the world through different eyes and finding simple working solutions to existing problems of our partners and customers - this has been part of our DNA since the foundation of Netstream at the end of 1998 by Alexis, Reto and me. I never thought that the answer to the biggest challenge: "to react quickly to the needs of the market and our customers" would end in a total restructuring of the management organization.    

How it all began

But back to the early days of Netstream. We were a company with a typical start-up mentality: short decision-making paths, customer proximity, "hands on" approach. As sales increased, Netstream began to grow. Year after year, the number of our employees increased. Our technical solutions matured faster than our internal processes. As the company grew in size, it became more challenging to maintain the original DNA and associated "doer mentality" within the organization.

Initially, each employee was still directly involved in creating value. Soon, however, new structures were created with managers and supporting roles. In the past, revenue per employee had proven to be a good indicator of the company's efficiency. Soon, however, we found that this began to decline in proportion to Netstream's growth.

Alarmed by this development, we three owners began to look for solutions. Our question, for which we were looking for answers, was: How can we make employees think entrepreneurially and make efficiency measurable? Unfortunately, the engagement of external consultants and the creation of countless business canvases did not have the desired effect. The vague consensus was that the strategy was lacking.

As is so often the case, chance then led us to the small consulting firm me&me on Limmatplatz in Zurich. The duo is convinced that the solution can never be found in the system alone. Instead, a system must evolve together with people. Only in the interplay between system and people can sustainable changes emerge. 

This is how the journey of our own further development began for us founders. Because if you want to develop a system further, it is advisable to start with yourself. We soon noticed how our interaction with each other changed for the better. This enabled us to look at the original question of increasing efficiency while the organization continued to grow from a new perspective. We quickly saw that our market environment in particular had changed. And that we as operational management were the bottleneck in this dynamic environment.

Inspired by me&me, we set out to find a system without a bottleneck. We educated ourselves further in sociocracy, holocracy and other organizational models until we finally found what we were looking for in 2018 with the agile-learning company based on the principle of a collegially managed company. A decentralized form of organization aligned with the market that leads where leadership is needed and can thus respond quickly to customer needs not only reminded us of Netstream's beginnings, but also reflects the DNA of our company.

The advantages of a decentralized, agile-learning organizational model for the customer and the company are obvious: it offers maximum flexibility and responsiveness in response to the dynamics of the market.

The way

We started at the bottom and formulated our values. We built our vision on this, derived our mission and defined our strategy. From then on, we defined these pillars as our direction and began to inspire our employees. We always kept the needs of our customers and partners firmly in mind.
In a decentralized organization, it is all the more important that the alignment is understood and supported by the employees. This is because, by definition, there is a lack of leaders to set the direction. At the same time, we expanded the management team by six people and established the principles of an agile-learning company in our meetings (for more details: see "Collegial Leadership" according to Bernd Oestereich and Claudia Schröder). We do all this with the goal of transforming Netstream into a company that convinces with innovative strength and agility as a reliable partner in the market.

Today, a good year and a half after expanding the management team, setting up an internal academy for training purposes, developing various tools to simplify processes, countless discussions with our partners and customers, and numerous deliberations on what Netstream's structure should look like in the future, we gave the go-ahead for the agile-learning Netstream at the beginning of August.

The meaning

It is well known that the effect of decisions cannot be predicted. What is needed is an empirical approach that evaluates the decision afterwards and thus enables further decisions to be made based on it. Even though our experience today is still very young, I can already say that this decision was a courageous but perfectly fitting one. With a company DNA that is designed to make complex systems understandable and accessible to the general public, we have chosen an organizational model that can be flexibly adapted to our requirements. This allows us exactly the freedom of action that we would like to continue to live for our partners and customers.

The best way to predict the future is to shape it. And that is exactly what we want to and will do with Netstream.

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