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Zero Managers

This post was originally shared in our email newsletter on February 26, 2024.

These past few weeks I have been devouring the body of work around Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. I want to thank Keaper Neoma for initially introducing me to this work! 

Laloux argues that traditional hierarchical organizational structures are outdated, advocating for a shift towards self-managing, purpose-driven organizations where individuals operate in a more autonomous and interconnected manner. To me, it felt like what would happen if you fully adopted the principles and philosophies of Nonviolent Communication in structuring an organization. 

Among a dozen other case studies the book covers is the story of Buurtzog , a self-managing organization that arose from the frustration of neighborhood nurses in the Netherlands with the corporate commodification of nursing work and patient relations. Buurtzog has no CEO in the conventional sense, no middle managers, and no corporate hierarchy. Over 99% of the employees of the company are nurses. There is almost no “HQ” staff. 

Buurtzog vastly outperforms its competitors in health outcomes and in patient satisfaction. It is consistently voted one of the best places to work in the country. And to boot it has higher profit margins than its industry peers—despite this not being its primary objective like its competitors. As nurses have deserted traditional corporate providers, the Buurtzog team has grown to over 7,000 in just seven years, and is now the largest neighborhood nursing provider in the Netherlands. 

You might be feeling a lot of resistance to some of the above. It is hard to believe this success when we have been accustomed to hierarchical and feudalistic organizations for all of our working lives—and even in our education since the very first grade. 

The companies featured in the book range from a handful of employees to tens of thousands located across the globe; from manufacturing to healthcare, technology and education, and more. With the benefit of what I have seen happen within Keap over the past few years (where I would say we are 25% on our way toward applying the principles in the book at the moment), I found it easy to believe the descriptions of success. 

I hope that in a few years our candles will be 100% made within this framework, bringing to life our purpose of connection in ways I can’t possibly dream of—because they will come from the shared contributions of a dedicated, purpose-driven team operating with autonomy and wholeness. 

I really believe that organizations transitioning to these ways of operating will lead us to a better future. If you’ve been involved in a self-managing organization, or have been thinking about it (whether you are currently an owner, middle manager, or individual contributor) I’d love to hear your experience—just send us an email. The more of us are working to learn (and unlearn) the faster we’ll have experience breakthroughs. 

With optimism,

— Harry from Keap, Steward-Owner

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