We’ve banished C*O roles — How do we live as a company without bosses?

4 min readFeb 16, 2022

We want to be a company with people that care for each other and in caring for each other care for SPOUD as well. The classic hierarchical system did not seem to fit this idea, so we had to open up to new things. Here’s the story of our partner system.

Written by Cecilia Monok

As a small company, we have always been in a privileged position because we have never had to follow strict rules. We have always decided for ourselves what, when, and how we do what we want to do. We are aware that this is a state of luxury, but great power comes with great responsibilities. If you’re free to choose between things, it’s easy to lose control and create nothing but a huge mess. Yet, we were lucky because we managed to build a team of awesome people working on awesome projects.

On our path, we’ve had the freedom to challenge the way we work and the way we think with the goal to create a natural working environment that helps us grow. And this same freedom has also allowed us to decide to abolish the hierarchy within SPOUD. From January on, there are no longer any C*O roles at SPOUD. Instead, we have introduced a so-called partner system, where all of our employees have the opportunity to participate as “partners” in the management of the company.

Focus on employee wellbeing through freedom and transparency

The idea behind the new system is that we want everyone to feel good about working for SPOUD, because we believe that only satisfied people do the best job. We wanted to make decisions in a way that was best for everyone. For that, we needed to create a system where we make decisions with people rather than over people. In line with this, our partner system aims to harmonize company and employee interests in the best possible way for the mutual promotion of company performance and employee happiness. Participation is not compulsory, but SPOUD motivates all employees to become active partners and to contribute their opinions, creativity, and energy to the company. Everybody takes entrepreneurial responsibilities and participates in all operational decision-making processes.

Who can be a partner?

In general, all employees who meet certain criteria qualify as partners. It is worth noting here that so far all of our colleagues, without exception, have chosen to become partners.

  • Desire and willingness to play an active role in shaping SPOUD for the good of the company.
  • Minimum workload of 60%.
  • The majority of the existing partners must agree to the admission.

Working in such an environment has many advantages, which are reflected in many aspects of our everyday work.

  • We have short communication paths between people, therefore making decisions doesn’t require too much time.
  • Broad sourcing of employee interests.
  • Transparency for all corporate and cultural topics promotes a deeper understanding of corporate and cultural topics and their implementation.
  • Closed-loop between problem identification and measures.

The functions

Photo by @trommelkopf

Our partner system is structured around three different functions: prime, watchdog, and understudy. The idea is to fill different functions in a round-robin procedure. All partners will at one point work as primes, watchdogs, or understudies. We meet regularly each week or even more often if the business requires it. In these meetings we decide about all SPOUD businesses, responsibility is carried together as a group of colleagues. Decisions are made together in simple majority votes.

Prime tasks

The Prime is the leading partner. The Prime is elected by the partners on a quarterly basis and represents the company’s business to the Board of Directors. The Prime is responsible for the organization and efficient conduct of meetings, has a deciding vote in the case of a tie, but is otherwise equal to all other partners. They ensure that partners are informed of upcoming decisions and ensure that decisions are made in a timely manner.

Watchdogs and Understudies

To enhance efficiency, individual partners take over watchdog responsibilities for seven different intelligence domains. All watchdogs have understudies, who are the upcoming watchdogs in their fields. They support the watchdog during their term of office, learn and will take over the office of the watchdog after the term has finished.

The main responsibility of watchdogs is to understand the state of these domains and inform the partners about risks and opportunities as they arise. This should enhance efficiency and reduce the risk that important points get lost. Some watchdog functions, like Finance, Business Development and Office Management are crucial assets that need constant observation, therefore these functions have their assigned watchdogs for 1 year. For the remaining functions — Staffing, Happiness, Tech&Skills and Agoora — the watchdogs and understudies rotate every 3 months.

What do we expect from the new system?

In the long term, we aim to help everyone in our team to find happiness and purpose inside of SPOUD. We hope this transparent system will allow us to make decisions quickly and efficiently, as a team, while systematically optimizing our business goals and results.

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