John, an experienced director with a large multinational, faced the biggest challenge of his career: realising a new startup, within the existing company structure. This small core group of professionals from different function groups, continents and cultures was put together to develop new products and services with which the multinational can make a positive contribution to climate change. There was a lot at stake. And fast results were expected.
In order to be able to pioneer, the team needed the power, agility and rapid learning to be able to do so. The organizational structures and blueprints that were commonly used within the multinational were not suitable for what John had to build. But it was not possible to completely disengage oneself and improvise independently. What could be done?
John and his leadership team had already formulated several key values for their new team. For example: "we don't ask whose job it is, we own the result together". The values were less reminiscent of a traditional company than they were of a community: a place where everyone, regardless of position or job description, feels ownership and a strong sense of belonging.
We decided to design on the basis of that image. Our first step was to bring everyone together. Team members from all over the world flew to London to work together for two days. They got to know each other and together defined the opportunity they saw for the new start-up, what it meant to them and how they would like to take it up together.
Back at the workplace, we continued to build. With John's leadership team, we looked at the organisational structure. We held conversations with team members to explore what they wanted to do for the benefit of the collective. What do they find important in how they achieve results? What talents do they want to develop? We talked to new people about what they need to be able to get to work quickly and easily. We analysed moments when the collaboration was going well and distilled ideas from that. This resulted in a simple design and division of tasks that did justice to the community idea, and at the same time represented a clear structure.
We deliberately kept the leadership team, which would be large elsewhere in the organisation, very small. And we set up three processes:
- Flexible cooperation. No compulsory "team calls" or meetings, but always connecting those people who need each other for a particular job.
- Fun and connection. Smaller and larger activities that ensure that the people within community, from Canada to Europe and Australia, know and value each other and look each other up.
- Learning from each other. A conscious rhythm of reflecting and experimenting over and over again.
In all processes, we used technology smartly to reinforce and facilitate the long-distance cooperation: small videos, podcasts really helped alongside traditional forms.
The impact could be felt immediately. Because the cooperation within the team got into a natural flow from the get-go. The compact size of the leadership team allowed them to have real personal conversations. The community members all consciously use their talents and develop innovative ways to work together. And senior management of the multinational sees a place that fits within the hierarchical structures, but has the energy of a startup. And delivers results.