The Swedish Software Company That Thrives with No CEO

March 9, 2017

SwedishSoftwareCompany-wo-CEOThree years ago, the staff of the Swedish software consulting firm Crisp felt it was time for a change in leadership. The company had been recently experimenting with its upper management structure, going from a standard CEO model to one that replaced the top executive annually through a staff vote. Then, a radical idea took root in the minds of Crisp’s employees. “We said, ‘what if we had nobody as our next CEO – what would that look like?’” said developer Yassal Sundman. “And then we went through an exercise and listed down the things that the CEO does.”

The staffers realized that many of the chief executive’s responsibilities could be taken over by the board or even by employees. “When we looked at it we had nothing left in the CEO column, and we said, ‘all right, why don’t we try it out?'” said Sundman. Since then, Crisp has operated without a CEO calling the shots. Instead, the company holds four-day long staff meetings two or three times a year in order to make major decisions that affect everyone. For instance, staffers might spend their time in these meetings debating the details of an office move or a potential acquisition. Other than that, employees are encouraged to make everyday decisions for themselves.

That doesn’t mean Crisp’s staffers operate independently of one another, however. While they don’t need to seek out permission from a boss, the company nevertheless demands that employees discuss their work and bounce ideas off of one another. While this structure may work in small offices, critics say the lack of oversight can lead to miscommunication in larger companies. After all, two employees could end up working on the same project and not realize it until they speak about it much later. “Often infinite freedom like that can be pretty disorientating,” said Dropbox founder Drew Houston. “It doesn’t always feel good, because you no longer know what you’re supposed to do, what’s important and you’re bumping up against other people.”

Questions:

 

  1. Do you think Crisp’s staff are more motivated than employees who work at companies with standard CEO structures?
  2. Why would Crisp’s non-hierarchical structure work out better in a small company rather than large one?

Source: Katie Hope, “No CEO: The Swedish Company Where Nobody Is in Charge,” BBC News, February 17, 2017.

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