In classical organizations there are hierarchical leadership structures whose origin goes back to the beginning of the industrial age. At that time it was assumed that there was a mass of ignorant and above all unwilling workers in front of you, who had to be led by a small group of knowledgeable people. At that time, leaded meant guided, motivated, praised, punished.

Decisions were not required of employees. All difficult situations had to be resolved by the manager. The employees had a maximum “reporting obligation”.

In some organisations time has stood still. Even today, technical decisions are made by a manager, employees are practically “patronized”, and although the employee would usually know better because he or she is close to the topic, it is the manager who makes the decision.

Employees who are managed this way for longer lose their ability to really work independently. The creativity to come up with ideas for improvement from the direct working environment will diminish.

Modern organizations have long since recognized that delegating decisions “upwards” leads to everything taking much longer. Decisions will often also be made “wrong” in the sense of a technically correct decision, because the decision maker simply does not know better, and information has been lost on the way up.

What is left behind are demotivated employees who have to wait a long time for decisions that they do not support, and managers who are only poorly prepared to assume their responsibility.

The call “Why do we need a manager at all?” then becomes loud. In order to “quiet” the employees, managers often resort to the same methods that worked in times of Taylorism and Fordism – reward and punishment.

Executives who are still “ticking” get their bills presented relatively quickly. Employees who really can do something, want to make a difference, have good ideas and can make a valuable contribution leave the company at the next best opportunity.

How can this horror scenario be avoided?

Recently, there has been a growing desire to streamline organizations, to “remove” management levels from the hierarchy pyramid and to give teams more and more responsibility and co-determination. This trend can also be subsumed under the term collegial leadership.

How exactly does it work?

If an organization wants to introduce collegial leadership, this can be equated with a high degree of collegial self-organization. This explicitly does not mean freedom of hierarchy or grassroots democracy.

A collegially managed company has a very clear and efficient organisational framework. The rules of the game for work in the company and at the company have been negotiated and agreed.

The issues that need to be “taken care of” in a collegial context are:

  • Which task is given to the team or how is a responsibility created?
  • With whom can/must it be negotiated?
  • How does the sensible division in the team happen (e.g.: with Scrum everyone takes over at least 1 task)?
  • Who makes decisions for the whole? How’s that?
  • Who solves conflicts?
  • How is implementation ensured and controlled?
  • How, who or what creates orientation for the employees?
  • How are people empowered? How do necessary learning processes develop? Who’s responsible for what?

How does an organization position itself that wants to introduce collegial leadership?

A collegially managed organisation relies on a good flow of information between the individual teams.

These teams are either technically interdependent and should therefore try to develop a network of information relationships and, based on clarified decision-making processes, quickly be able to resolve operational problems that arise.

If two units cannot agree, a clarification or decision-making process is needed, possibly involving mentors, so that decisions can be taken at team level.

Structurally, collegial leadership is relatively easy to establish if the overall structure fits.

A basic prerequisite for the “former” hierarchical leaders is that they renounce their old role, which is usually associated with a claim to power.

This means that managers no longer have a “special” role: decisions are no longer made “because the manager wants it that way”, but because previously agreed decision criteria require this decision.

For the individual employee in a collegially managed company context, a high level of communication skills and the competence to reach interest-based agreements are required in order to achieve jointly defined goals or to jointly explore new creative paths.

What a classic manager used to do is considered to be a collection of tasks. These tasks must be performed in the same way in the new collegially managed teams – not necessarily by one person.

These tasks are equivalent to technical tasks, so there is no longer any social prestige if you take on a “leadership role”.

At the same time, this means that every employee is also responsible for his or her role and cannot hide behind his or her manager.