No response from the engine room! (Part 2)

By Alexander Klier By Jeffrey Backus Jun 10, 2015
No response from the engine room! (Part 2)

Translation of the Original Article by Alexander Klier

Keynote „The person in the digital workplace: Chance for a new humanization of the workplace“ by  Thomas Sattelberger at the WING conference on May 6th 2015 in the  Literaturhaus Munich.
Picture: Alexander Klier. Creative Commons 4.0 BA-SA (Attribution and Usage under the same conditions).

„Some of the most important innovations don’t originate from new technologies but through different ways of collaborating and organizing work“ (Tom Malone, MIT; quoted by Thomas Sattelberger). In Part 1 of this report about the Wing project conference on the subject of „Trends and challenges of the future for working with Knowledge“ we covered the empirical findings that were reached (here). Independent of this conference, but in the same context, Siegfried Lautenbacher (here) and I (here) worried about the subject of digital transformation and the (necessary) changes for the employees and working conditions during the Social Business Arena 2015. This conference helped us immensely from the perspective of scientific expertise, and thereby argumentative. In this Part 2 I would like to run with this again on the basis of appreciation for Thomas Sattelberger’s Keynote. The organization and implementation of the conference, however, stayed solid and un-disruptive. To me it was too bad that audience involvement didn’t happen, not even to some extent. Obviously there was the chance - for example at the end of the podium discussion – to ask questions. But overall the framework was not designed to include the expertise of the companies – which, in my opinion were aggregated at the conference – to answer the fundamental and profound questions. Reason enough to have a few thoughts about it. With regard to the organizational design of the conference, in my view there is quite some potential for optimization. In other words: the demanded proficiency - or as we at BeaS (Beck et al. Services) say: the empowerment (of the staff) – should also find expression in this form of scientific and knowledge-creating exchanges. To get back to the point: here also, in a collaborative exchange, they have to switch from the expert mode to mutual learning. The counterpart we favor is called Social Learning or as a partial aspect Learning out loud within the concept of  Working out loud.

Why not Learning out loud?

After the lunch break the opportunity was provided to not only to be introduced to practical examples, but also to afterwards discuss in the “Speakers Corner” area. I.e. time and space  was provided to start conversations about the various projects. I thought it remarkable that it was the works council of two of the companies (Telekom and Audi) that presented the practical example, and for Bosch the presentation was done by together with the works council. The following projects were introduced:

  • Robert Bosch GmbH – Employee participation in a digitized workplace
  • Software AG – globally organized knowledge work
  • andrena objects ag – Agility and empowerment in the modern workplace
  • Telekom Deutschland GmbH – accompanying changes
  • AUDI AG – Vision Ingolstadt 2030
  • IG Metall – Understanding and customizing Knowledge work together


Practical examples were supposed to help clarify the relevance for the companies and show what some concrete steps could be. Picture: Practical Examples at the Wing project conference Photo: Alexander Klier, CC 4.0 (BY-SA)

Overall, the examples were indeed very nice and sometimes informative, but what interested me the most was probably not going to discuss in this constellation. That would be the following questions:

  • What are the problems in the practical implementation?
  • How can you deal with these problems effectively?
  • Will all employees join in?
  • If yes, how was it done?
  • If not: How do you deal with objectors?
  • Why is it so difficult to reach other companies?

You cannot blame the Meeting that this was difficult to discuss. But obviously it shows that it is still incredibly problematic to openly and honestly discuss perceived problems across companies. The most striking expression of Learning out loud can currently be found at the so-called Barcamps. In particular since the examples are meant for a knowledge-creating public, they would ideally be suited for a Learning out loud. The certainly will be the opportunity for such a step at an upcoming conference. A discussion of these blog entries might also be a good opportunity – at least for spreading the subject. And against responses from the engine room.  

Against the thinking from the engine room

„The more control, the closer the leadership, the lower the commitment, the lower the lived creativity“ (Thomas Sattelberger in the Press Release) The German economy thinks path-dependently and linear in the corset of Industry 4.0 thus missing the connection to the information space. In this respect the hype about the internet doesn’t reflect at all what digital transformation should be all about and what processes actually should be altered usefully, Thomas Sattelberger continued. There certainly is much truth in it. In his Keynote I was most impressed with his directness when speaking about the need for change. And at the same time he pointed out how little the German economy is still prepared for a digital transformation. To me there were three key elements that are worth considering:

  1. The success in the engine room is preventing transformation in the organizational departments, because the answers to social questions (Change processes) are being given technically or follow technical ideas.
  2. Due to the transfer of the decision-making competencies towards communities and their respective members „new players“ enter the field: the employee or the team. A participation in decision-making processes, as Labor Unions often quote doesn‘t work
  3. In the future there will be competition between various blueprints or organizational structures. An important or central blueprint – among others – will be the “democratic enterprise”.


Thomas Sattelberger doesn’t think that employee participation and the enabling of teams will work in traditional participation in decision-making. New ways and structures will have to be found without disabling the previous participation rights. A view we at Beck et al. Services share. Picture: Thomas Sattelberger’s Keynote at the Wing-Projet conference. Photo: Alexander Klier, CC 4.0 (BY-SA)

The last two points are again beautifully able to tie in with our positioning with respect to a digital transformation. We already have considerations about the exact design the digital workplace, which can consequently take up Thomas Sattelberger’s implications. Siegfried Lautenbacher – not for nothing - wrote something about the democratic enterprise here. The Background and core in his arguments is that it is (and has to be) actually all about granting communities the relevant authorization. For example to transfer the classic Directorate of the employer to them by them deciding how many team members need to be included and for them to independently hire those. There are also practical examples for that – although not too many. The most recent is the restructuring towards a holocracy at Zappos. But this – and I will close these two blog entries for now - is not only a new conceptual variant or aberration. It should rather be expressed that communities and teams should be given a say on strategic processes, and that they have to be able to control available resources. A shift in responsibilities and codetermination is happening on the level of small communities, in which the individual employees are involved. This does not only require a new term. But also a detailed discussion about the understanding of the relevant democracy and most of all how it can be structurally implemented. The answer may not come from the engine room, under no circumstances. We wholeheartedly agree with Thomas Sattelberger on that. This was part 2 of the Blog entry about the Wing projects conference “Tomorrows digital workplace needs the people: trends and challenges for working with knowledge in the future”. For Part 1, which contains and briefly analyzes the presented empirical facts, click here.