When we talk about the existing People challenges to succeed in the scaling phase, team empowerment often pops up as a very hot topic. It might even be a necessary condition to scale.
Indeed, skills and leadership cannot remain in a few hands, it has to be spread within the organization. Good news is that team empowerment is also the way for your teams to personally develop and blossom and thus fit better with the mission of the company.
How to go from a command and control mode to a trusting mode and discover the power of it?
No need to explain then why it was one of the hot topics we discussed during our community event, the Impact Growth Day, which took place on November 9th, 2021, gathering our portfolio companies and key members of our ecosystem.
To discuss further this topic of team empowerment, we needed to get inspiration from very experienced people. This is why we invited two representatives of Octo Technology, a 800 people IT consulting and design firm created in 1998 and bought out by Accenture in 2016, which have erected team empowerment almost as a religion in their organization and has been seven times elected Great Place To Work since 2011.
Octo Technology in a few words
To present it, we were very lucky to have 2 key representatives of the company and great storyteller when it comes to the Octo model:
- Nathalie Avramesco, Chief People Officer for the Octo Group, since 2016
- Damien Joguet, Senior Partner at Octo Technology (with Octo since 2000)
They explained the history of the company, the main steps and the need they felt in the mid 2010s to change the organization of the company to carry on growing and being as efficient and successful.
Inspired by the concept of sociocracy and the book by Frederic Laloux “Reinventing Organizations”, they decided to let their team organize themselves in “tribes” gathering team members willing to tackle a specific technological or business challenge. The tribes are autonomous regarding their organization, governance, rituals and value proposition. New tribes are often created and old ones can disappear. All this is managed in a non hierarchical organization mode since tribes can elect their representatives. To ensure efficiency in the organization, they asked the tribes to gather in a limited number of “leagues” with each league having a representative in the executive team.
They consider that this very agile organization is the key to keep innovation within the team and ensure business performance and ability to be ahead of the pack compared with their competitors.
Funny thing is that when Accenture bought out Octo Technology, they let Octo carry on with this organization even though it is not very Accenture-like. Despite the fact that they didn’t really understand what they were doing with their tribes and leagues and weird rituals, they did acknowledge that it was the key to the performance of the company.
What we have learnt from the Octo example
This very peculiar model is giving us a lot of information about the key success factors of a team empowerment strategy. We can sum this up in 4 learnings:
- No empowerment without a solid empowerment culture. Octo didn’t switch to their tribe culture in a day. They have worked deeply on the “why” of Octo before they came to the idea of this organization. And part of the “why” of Octo relied on the ability of the team to drive performance and innovation on their initiative.
- Leaders’ exemplarity is not an option. The leaders in the organization must be 100% aligned with the empowerment culture and adapt their way of working to be the first promoter of delegation and empowerment.
- You have the right to make mistakes. And more than that, you will make mistakes given that you are empowered and pushed towards decision making and initiatives. The question is more about the way you manage mistakes: to what extent you accept mistakes, how the organization deals with mistakes, what you learn from the mistakes?
- With empowerment comes accountability: when you open the door to team empowerment, you also welcome accountability within the teams. Of course each tribe and league has performance KPIs agreed upon. The way the tribes work as a group and the reporting to the leagues and the executive team makes accountability real and concrete and commits the team to the results and the performance.
The measure of success
When we ask the Octo team about the measurement of the efficiency of their organization, they don’t hesitate: company performance! Growth rate and profitability are the 2 main indicators of the company. When you take a look at Octo’s performance over the last few years, it seems that it does work quite well. Another proof of the success is the fact that Accenture didn’t change a slight thing in the organization because they understood it was the key to the company’s performance.
Cherry on the cake, it seems to have a strong positive impact on the team directly. And we can measure it through other indicators: lower employee turnover, strong referral rate, great place to work award won an incredible amount of times, etc.
What if these two things (performance and team morale) were finally quite connected…?
To survive as a leader, you need to empower your team
When we see Octo’s story, it seems almost easy and obvious that you need to empower your team to achieve great performance. The shortcut is tempting but it would be a very wrong appreciation of the work and the talent it requires to build such an organization.
On a more pragmatic level, we can also see team empowerment as a sufficient and necessary condition for the leaders of a company to be able to do their job. To illustrate this, we also invited Jean-Michel Janoueix to this round table. As a former CEO of several companies, he confesses that he used to promote team empowerment above all because it was the only way for him to manage his bandwidth. After taking a step-back, he also believes that it is in addition to this bandwidth topic, a great enabler of performance and scale.
To manage team empowerment, Jean-Michel uses the analogy of the dance floor: each team member can evolve in a limited space (a dancefloor) where rules are known and people know what they have to do if they stand here. Nevertheless, it leaves place for initiative, autonomy and creativity. And in a more concrete approach, Jean-Michel uses a simple tool (such as a spreadsheet) for each member which explains clearly these dancefloor limits with autonomy space, possible constraints and boundaries.
And to finish in style, what else than a shot of inspiration with Simon Sinek: