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32% more autonomy at Yellowstar by starting small

Summary

As an IT organization, Yellowstar puts people at the center  in the markets of manufacturing, trade, retail and logistics. And with success. The organization is growing rapidly in a fairly traditional market. This growth created the necessity for an innovative view on Yellowstar’s organization. Inspired by self-managing frameworks, the management team wanted to increase engagement and autonomy among employees. In addition, a need arose among employees to be able to grow outside the existing boxes. Daniel Pink aptly says: “Every person has the need to make independent choices that contribute to a higher purpose. When people are given and feel that autonomy, they achieve more and live richer, happier lives”. 

Instead of simply imposing this innovative vision, Yellowstar deliberately chose a journey of discovery in collaboration with Prototyping Work. The adventure started with two teams. By means of ‘prototyping’, they discovered together what worked and especially also what didn’t work. This resulted in a unique journey towards more engagement and autonomy, which after 3 months already led to a 32% growth in autonomy. 

“Prototyping has given us a new foundation for innovation, where truly everyone can participate with their own strengths”

yellowstar prototyping

The case

Introduction

Yellowstar bundles broad knowledge of IT and logistics into distinctive software for optimal supply chain cooperation. They distinguish themselves in the market mainly through passionate employees combined with the passion for the end user of the system. Their software adapts to user wishes instead of the other way round. They call this “IT for Social supply chains”. The organization has been around for over 12 years now and is growing steadily. Yellowstar has won an FD award 4 years in a row for their rapid growth and scores high in the annual Great Place To Work surveys.

Yellowstar has 2 offices in the Netherlands and 1 in Germany. They use software technology and logistics knowledge to connect and accelerate capital-intensive supply chains. But they also realize intermodal transport management systems (TMS), dynamic planning boards, terminal operating systems (TOS) and customer or carrier portals. Based on their conviction, they put people first, both customers and employees. Everyone’s job becomes more enjoyable and attractive. Their tagline is: ‘Plan yourself a smile!

The Challenge of Autonomy

The growth of the organization shows that they have a proven successful formula. Nevertheless, both the employees and the leaders of Yellowstar felt the need to organize differently. First of all there was already interest from management in new ways of organizing. What are the possibilities and how could they contribute to Yellowstar? Secondly, employees indicated that they were reaching the ceiling of growth within the current teams. Enough reason for a journey of discovery, but how can a company like Yellowstar approach this carefully?

The Solution

Passionate employees benefit from autonomy, as it leads to greater engagement. What happens when you create more autonomy in an organization? Often this means, among other things, more responsibility and ownership among the employees. This is then accompanied by less hierarchy and therefore less management.

There are currently several organizational forms or rather templates that can be implemented: Holacracy or Sociocracy 3.0. But care is necessary, because implementing big changes in one fell swoop often means little buy-in from employees. Together with Prototyping Work, Yellowstar looked for a way to start small and discover step by step how autonomy can work in and for the teams. What are the benefits? And do the results match the ambitions of the organization and its passionate employees?

We started with two teams. With the Prototyping Work methodology, we adapted the already existing scrum rhythm of two weeks. In each iteration, experiments were developed and tested. These experiments were created based on so-called tensions or challenges.

First, the current challenges were identified. Then a key challenge was highlighted, and placed in a broader context. In this way, a common understanding of the challenge emerged and the team became convinced that this challenge needed to be addressed.

The third step in this process is to devise experiments, prototypes, that can “solve” the challenge. Prototyping Work facilitates this creative process through energetic, sometimes hilarious workshop formats. Through this we challenged the teams to think innovatively, e.g. with elements from Holacracy or Sociocracy 3.0.

And then comes the most fun and final step: seeing if a prototype works.

Parallel to these iterations, the need organically arose to also analyze the ‘purpose’ of and roles within the team: why are we doing this? And are we doing the right thing? Does it make us happy? These questions were also answered using the methodology.

The Result: Growth in Autonomy

Discovering new organizational forms and growing our passionate employees. That was Yellowstar’s desire. Creating more autonomy through the Prototyping Work methodology seemed to be the solution. Did it work?

After the first three months, the following results are visible:

  • Compared to the baseline measurement at the beginning of the project, the autonomy of the teams grew by 32%, according to employees. Engagement also grew by 12%.
  • The two teams discovered a purpose and role distribution in which they first of all feel at home, but where they can also realize their ambition.
  • The continuous prototyping ensures a creative and adaptive mindset and each team learns what works for them and what doesn’t.
Scorecard
Autonomy: +32 %
Engagement: +12%

In addition, we also saw encouraging indirect results:

  • Working on challenges as a team created more psychological safety within the teams
  • A great effect of the process was also that employees showed more courage and showed that they themselves, with their team, want to remove obstacles. This manifests itself, for example, in employees who are trained in facilitating the methodology within their own team.

3 learnings

The Prototyping Work methodology helps to form one’s own unique path towards a goal, for example progressive organizing. It does mean that space and freedom must be given and responsibilities will shift. This can feel a bit scary in the beginning, but it is something that benefits everyone in the organization. 

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