“Where is your attention focused right now?” Andreas Rey, business designer at ABI, asks the group during check-in. We’re sitting in the fifth floor of a building in Hochbrücken Street in Munich, in one of the four offices occupied by Audi Business Innovation GmbH (ABI). Today, Andreas is playing the role of facilitator – the moderator of the one-hour sync meeting. Meeting like this, where the team of five catches up with each other, are held once a week – in accordance with a structured schedule and predefined processes. One after the other, each person says quickly what is keeping them busy or distracting them, and how their energy level is that day. Then it continues: explaining absences, checking key figures, asking for project updates, setting an agenda, working through the agenda, describing trouble zones. All around us: Post-its as far as the eye can see.
How Audi Business Innovation works
Facilitator, sync and governance?! Audi Business Innovation, or ABI for short, works in an unusual way. What does “self-organization” mean? Why doesn’t the Audi subsidiary have traditional departments? Blog author Susanne Mellinghoff shares her findings.
At ABI, the brightly colored sticky notes aren’t just there to collect ideas. The meeting participants write down their “trouble zones” – topics that they would like to discuss with the group – and stick these on a flip chart. This is divided into three categories: give info, get info, next action/project. With this method, they quickly work through an unbelievable number of topics, determine responsibilities, and define the next steps. After each point of discussion, the facilitator asks the individual team members: “Did you get what you need?”
The interface between technology, digital business models, and mobility
Founded in 2013 by Audi as a 100% subsidiary, ABI develops, implements and carries out innovative concepts, products, and services in the areas of IT, digital business models, and mobility. One core product is Audi on demand, a mobility service that makes it possible for users to experience flexible and comfortable premium mobility. Using either the Audi on demand booking website or, depending on the market region, an app, customers can book the Audi of their choice by the hour or by the day. Comprehensive services and personal assistance at vehicle handover are included. The service is currently available in Peking, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Manchester, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Munich. Additional locations will be introduced in 2018.
Dynamic circle structure instead of traditional departments
Digital business models work according to different rules. To be successful in this complex, fast, and dynamic environment, ABI created its own flexible structures. “We grew very quickly from an initial headcount of 9 to the 190 employees we have today, and we quickly realized that the decision-making paths were too long. Something needed to change, we all needed to become more agile – so we tried out a few different things and then struck out on the path of self-organization,” explains Charlotte Yasin, who works in organizational development at ABI.
But self-organization doesn’t mean that everyone can just do whatever they want. Just the opposite. “We work with clear structures,” explains Charlotte. These structures can be found in ABIOS, a sort of operating system or rulebook that the company uses to guide its actions. The employees work according to the principles of self-organization and in interdisciplinary teams. Instead of departments in the traditional sense, they have “circles” in which the employees take on roles. These circles are tied dynamically to projects rather than having a fixed structure. “Each responsibility is described in a role. We check regularly to see if the roles are still applicable to a circle. If we see that something isn’t working, we change it,” says Charlotte. Even core functions such as finance, purchasing, and HR are set up according to principles of self-organization and offer support to all circles.
Short development cycles require self-organization and special meeting formats
Switching over to self-organization became necessary primarily because the customers and markets for digital products change much more quickly than, for example, those for a car. This means that the development cycles are significantly shorter. “We need to make quick decisions so that we can react to customer wishes,” explains Stefanie Menzi, who also works in the organizational development team at ABI.
To live out this organizational concept efficiently, ABI implemented its own form of meetings. This is the reason for the sync meetings described earlier; they are used to work on operational topics, share information, and assign tasks. In addition, governance meetings are carried out every three to four weeks. These meetings are used to check whether goals, roles, and tasks in the individual circles are still appropriate or if they need to be changed. The meetings are moderated by a facilitator, who is chosen at the beginning of the meeting. He or she is a sort of moderator who leads the team through the meeting and directs things efficiently. “At this point, almost half of the employees here have been trained as facilitators; we offer a one-day training for them,” says Stefanie.
Agility and team spirit
The employees also live out self-organization when it comes to combining work and family life. Because the childcare situation in Munich was so problematic, several employees got together and established their own daycare in the city center, not far from the office. They call it “ABIKids.” But personal responsibility isn’t the only important thing at ABI; interpersonal relationships are also encouraged. For one, employees have special meetings to give feedback, work through conflicts, and constantly improve cooperation within the team. And there are also voluntary events: on a regular basis, new employees organize an evening out with their colleagues to celebrate the start of their job, and there are regular events to give colleagues the opportunity to talk with each other. For example, the employees have previously organized hackathons, regular agile meetups, or product marketplaces. “To really be able to work together efficiently, team spirit is essential,” Stefanie explains.
45 minutes later, the sync meeting is winding down. Andreas casts a glance around the group. Time for check-out: “OK, how will you all leave the meeting now? What will you take out of it?” Satisfied expressions all around.
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