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A flat organisation structure? This is how we started

Agile, teal, self-organising, autonomous teams, flat organisations, new way of working… We all dream to work in such an environment. The question is; how do you create such an open, transparent structure where you don’t lose focus, nor efficiency.
This is how we started at Sweet Mustard.

What you need to know about Sweet Mustard first

  • Sweet Mustard is enabling agile teams to work in state-of-the-art technologies for its customers
  • Sweet Mustard is exactly 1 year old
  • The pillars of Sweet Mustard are
    • Cultivating talent
    • Inspiring community
    • Innovating business
  • There’s no management team or hierarchy

The goal

Last year, while working with 2 or 5 or even 10 colleagues, everything seemed manageable. Of course, when a company grows as fast as Sweet Mustard in 1 year’s time, some obvious growing pains emerge. While being happy about boosting business and rising demands, questions like “how can we keep the right focus and priorities, how do we safeguard our values and core beliefs, how do we continue to work on our pillars and our story” arise.

What we were looking for

Agile, teal, self-organising, autonomous teams, flat organisations, new way of working…
Exactly that. We wanted to keep the feeling of “not coming to work” when we were coming to work. Still having fun with innovating ideas, hackathons, no fixed place or time for work, no managers, planners to tell us what or how to do things.

How we started

How did we start? By getting inspired by books and ted talks around agility, reinventing organisations, kaizen, the connected company and many others. And no, we did not invent anything, but we selected what was interesting and what might work for us.

First we started by defining our touch points, placing our organisation in the centre.

Damien blogpost graphics 01

Secondly, we defined (and this exercise took quite some iterations) the domains that we need to support the touch points with, which resulted in the drawing hereunder.
The outside layer contains the domains that are directly in contact with the touch points. The inside layer contains the domains that support the outside layer in achieving their goals (supporting services).

Damien blogpost graphics 02

Having defined the domains, the following step was to define the tasks of the domains.
We did not want to fall into task and role descriptions because we feared that we would end up with functions, titles and hierarchy in the end. So we started with a well known technique to us that we use in our agile teams; impact mapping.
We asked 6 people with the most affinity to each domain to define an impact map per domain.
During this exercise, we noticed that nearly all maps had the same actors, so we decided the harmonise this and to work with the following actors for all maps:

  • Leads
  • Customers
  • Team Members
  • Partners
  • Community members
  • The organisation itself

This is an example of the continuous improvement impact map :

Damien blogpost graphics 03

The important part of an impact mapping exercise is to define the change in behaviour you want to see for each actor. This allowed us to relate strongly to our pillars and the mission of Sweet Mustard. The focus was right where we wanted it, and not on operational tasks and descriptions.

Defining deliverables for each behaviour change was the next step.
After 2 days of workshops, we agreed on domain definition, purpose, aimed behaviour change for the actors, a list of deliverables (backlog) and most importantly, the priority of the deliverables per domain. We also assigned one person as a Product Owner to each domain. This person will follow up the deliverables and define the priority of the backlog.
As we wanted everyone in the company to contribute to the domain he or she chooses, we also defined a priority amongst the domains to avoid conflicts when choosing the next deliverable to work on.

Where we are now

Today, our first iteration has started, working on the highest priority for the organisation.
We use a Kanban board (with a Work In Progress limit) to follow up the backlogs per domain, and we use Trello boards to manage our backlogs. Everyone in the company can choose to contribute to a deliverable that was pulled from the backlog, and the PO is required to “demo” the deliverable when it is done to the whole company in our “all hands” meeting. This meeting is our bi-weekly meeting with the entire company, where we share our input and experiences of the past 2 weeks.
The “demo” results in an agreement, a process or maybe even a template we might need at that time. Working with backlogs and Kanban boards allow us to focus on the right thing at the right time.

Damien blogpost picture


Did we create an organisation structure? You tell me… But we achieved to frame our needs in line with our goals and we work on the right things when it’s needed.
We still don’t have managers or planners to tell us what to do and most importantly, we are still having fun. What’s the little extra? We all have a strong feeling of contributing to the Sweet Mustard goals without losing our autonomy or feeling of freedom.

Still looking for an organisation chart ? This is the best we can offer:

Damien blogpost graphics 04

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