On March 24th, 2016 one of the football’s most well know legends Johan Cruyff passed away. His merit list is a mile long and, for example, include three-time Ballon d’Or winner, Word Cup finalist, the long time key player and manager for Ajax and Barcelona. However, what on earth does Johan Cruyff have to do with Bilot – an IT consultancy company? Well, more than first meets the eye.
Johan Cruyff and Total Football
Johan Cruyff is often recognized with a playing style called Total Football. A style made famous by the Netherlands National Football Team in the 1970’s, all though the early seeds of the concept were already planted in the 1950’s. Today, the “tiki-taka” playing style of FC Barcelona is probably the most well-known heritage of the Total Football playing style. The basic idea of the style is that no outfield player has a fixed position and, therefore, can take an own initiative to relocate on the field. This for example meaning that a defender can move to an attacking position if he or she sees it fit. The trick, however, is that when a player makes a decision that forces a player to move outside of the player’s original position, a teammate should cover him. This so that the team formation is still somewhat in place to support the common outcome of the team. So understanding the common goal and strategy is a necessary ingredient.
We have seen the results of the Total Football thinking on the football pitch, and the results are overwhelming. The teams are and have been very successful. Not only measured in amounts of trophies, but the teams mastering this thinking style have usually been very entertaining, and the dynamics between the players can be considered to be a form of art. Also, the players who have played in this kind of formations have also often been considered as world-class stars and praised to be exceptionally creative. Not taking anything away from the players themselves, but I would argue that not all of this is due that these players would be exceptionally creative from the beginning. I believe that when the players are subject to a formation that encourages them to think, be proactive and most importantly; where they can and are expected to make own decisions, it takes the players creativity to the next level. This is something that organizational science can back up.
Bilot and Self-Organizing Teams
Individuals that feel that they have the authority and decision-making power over their work are clearly more motivated. We all know what motived employees can do for a company, but self-organizing organizations can be even more. When authority is distributed to where the information is, it creates an organization that is flexible and proactive. An organization that does not rely on only a few people to think and the rest to execute, but an organization where everyone thinks and executes at the same time. This is something that will take any organization a step closer to greatness.
Bilot wants to be a forerunner and is no exception on decentralizing the authority. As one of the several actions at Bilot, we have changed our organizational structure for this year. We removed a lot of managerial duties and set up what we call self-organizing teams. So in a brief we want everyone to be the leader of his or her work and have the authority to take the necessary decisions. We still have some teams to group the people together based on their main working tasks. The boundaries between the teams are however low and relocating is more or less up to individual decisions. Actually, as a fun coincidence, these “teams” actually goes by the name FC’s – referring to Football Clubs.
We at Bilot are three months in our new organization model, and it is too early to draw any conclusion on the results. However, for me, it is clear that this is the path for the organization to be on. It is however not a path without rocks. The self-organizing organization, as well as the Total Football playing style, demands more from its players. You are required to be active, think, influence, communicate and anticipate. For a player or employee, it is easier to be in a model where you are just executing someone’s orders. It feels safe when you are not accountable and just need to show up in the morning. Is it, however, something that motivates you throughout your career or makes you organization great? Probably not. In a self-organizing organization, you unlock the thinking power of everyone, on every level. Something that when achieved takes your organization to greatness.
Johan Cruyff once said:
“Simple football is the most beautiful. But playing simple football is the hardest thing.”
Let this be his legacy to Bilot. Simple organizations are indeed beautiful, but getting there and keeping them so is hard work. The outcome, both for the organization and the individuals, is so compelling that it is worth striving for.