No CEO Anymore, A Swedish company where nobody is the Boss

Do you really need someone to tell you what to do at work?

Three years ago, Swedish software consultancy Crisp decided that the answer was no.

The firm, which has about 40 staff, had already trialled various organisational structures, including the more common practice of having a single leader running the company.

Crisp then tried changing its chief executive annually, based on a staff vote, but eventually decided collectively that no boss was needed.

Yassal Sundman, a developer at the firm, explains: “We said, ‘what if we had nobody as our next CEO — what would that look like?’ And then we went through an exercise and listed down the things that the CEO does.”

The staff decided that many of the chief executive’s responsibilities overlapped with those of the board, while other roles could be shared among other employees.

“When we looked at it we had nothing left in the CEO column, and we said, ‘all right, why don’t we try it out?’” says Ms Sundman.

Crisp holds four-day meetings for all staff two to three times a year. They are used to making decisions on issues that affect everyone, such as an office move, but workers are encouraged to make decisions themselves at other times.

It also still has a board — a legal requirement — and this can be used as a last resort to resolve issues if something is not working.

Henrik Kniberg, an organisational coach at the firm, argues that not having to ask a boss for decisions on projects or budgets means the firm can respond faster.

“If you want to get something done, you stand up and start driving that,” he says.

Yet Mr Kniberg stresses that not having to ask permission does not remove the need for staff to discuss issues or bounce ideas off each other.

Because they are all in charge, workers are more motivated, he argues. Crisp regularly measures staff satisfaction, and the average is about 4.1 out of five.The company is set up like a family, says Mr Kniberg. While nobody tells anyone exactly what to do, the unspoken understanding is that you don’t mess up the house.

But what if the rest of the staff feel that one worker has made a terrible decision?

Ms Sundman says that is okay. “At least you did the thing that was right in the moment — and then we can have a discussion about it. You can explain why it is that you thought this was a good way, and actually you might get everybody else to think the same way.”

Ultimately, the firm hopes that its way of working could inspire other companies to emulate the “Crisp DNA”.

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