No Management Team and Roles at VSHN Anymore

VSHN has no central or top-level management anymore since June 2024. Instead, we’re organized in a network of self-organizing and self-governing teams and roles. We have processes and coordination to ensure overview and escalation paths where it’s useful, but we intentionally don’t have a "catch all" anymore. This page describes how that evolved over time and what this means for VSHNeers, customers, and partners.

Does this actually work?

Yes, because it’s basically what worked for almost 10 years now. Does it solve all the problems? Yes, it can, and making it so explicit also introduces new challenges. But with these structures and practices, we can address and overcome these challenges as we go.

Feedback from VSHNeers:

"For me, it’s about adapting to reality, making things that already work in a certain way more explicit, creating more clarity."

From then to today

VSHN started as a small team making decisions collaboratively around one table. However, as the company expanded, it became unclear how to make bigger strategic and organizational change decisions, and a management team attempted to decide, leading to feelings of disconnection among employees from the decision-making processes. To tackle this, VSHN started to value principles and use patterns from Sociocracy 3.0, over the years fostering a structure and practices that emphasized self-organization rather than hierarchy, which helped clarify team roles and responsibilities. While much still isn’t clarified, it works, and we have a way to evolve the structures and practices further and support the personal development toward more self-responsibility with our VSHNeers.

As the organization evolved, it formed specialized teams focused on delivering customer value, and additionally teams or roles such as HR, Finance, Sales, Marketing, and Customer Support, among others. The role of the "General Manager" was maintained as a safety net for overarching issues but ultimately proved ineffective due to a gap between management and day-to-day operations, and hindering collaboration through the psychological effect that came with "being management" that doesn’t decide but still interferes everywhere.

Recognizing these limitations, VSHN moves towards greater collaboration and even more distributed responsibilities. Consequently, around June 2024, VSHN officially removed the "management team" and "general manager" roles, solidifying its commitment to a decentralized, self-managed structure. As the people who had these roles stay in VSHN and mostly take the same responsibilities, just shared with others in other roles, the risks are seen as minimal - it’s expected that most VSHNeers don’t even feel much of this step.

How does this work?

This is a huge topic and can’t be explained properly with a TL;DR. Start reading more about how VSHN works here. Still, as an overview, here are the most important aspects in summary:

  • VSHN is organized in Semi-Autonomous Teams and Roles. This means a domain (purpose, responsibilities to take over and deliverables/expectations) is made clear.

  • Teams, Roles, and maybe other groups are by default self-organizing and self-governing. They coordinate their work, make operational one-off decisions but also drive their governance (changing their domain, processes, policies, setting objectives). They involve affected other roles or teams in their decision-making.

  • Decisions are made based on reasoned arguments, not by people in positions or ranks, usually in the circle (role or team) responsible, involving other affected teams and roles.

  • Teams and Roles are peer-reviewed; they should seek and improve based on feedback from their stakeholders (internal or external customers).

  • Major domains of VSHN cover high-level functions, making responsibilities clear: Strategy Role, Finance Role, People Role, OrgDev/Culture Role, and Product/Customers (currently Sol Team).

  • These major roles meet periodically to have an overview and understand more complex or bigger scope issues that require input from multiple perspectives. They coordinate the efforts, but addressing the issues should happen where it belongs. This happens as frequently as needed, and that’s okay.

  • Internal escalation is still possible when things can’t be solved within a team or role. Escalation isn’t to be confused with "not caring."

External Communication

In the IT world, it’s becoming increasingly common for IT and software teams to operate without team leads, often adopting agile workflows, team coaches, or scrum masters, and sometimes having dedicated or shared product owners. Such teams can work very autonomously in the interest of the organization or their customers. The responsibility for delivery lies with the whole team, with key roles like the Product Owner (PO) and Scrum Master (SM) providing support as part of the team.

VSHN works like that, just on the scale of the whole organization.

However, in many organizations, including those in the IT sector, having a "Top Management Team" and C-Level roles remains common. These roles typically take overall responsibility for the business or organization. Our customers, accustomed to such structures, often expect us to be organized similarly and may ask for our CEO, for example. We simply don’t have this at VSHN.

As explained in "C-Level Titles", we do not misrepresent our structure externally. We do not claim to have a management team or C-Levels at VSHN. VSHN is different, and this difference is not negative for our customers.

Contract Signing

The idea is that people can sign where it happens in the process. For example, two people from Sales can sign a legally binding contract, see Signing Rights below. Naming "Management or CEO" isn’t needed when signing contracts. If the customer expects this, use your real role like "Account Management" or similar, but don’t invent roles or titles that don’t exist at VSHN.

Escalation Path

  1. On the operational, technical level, you work directly with our (Support) Engineers. It might be surprising, but they have the same power to drive decisions (a "Management member" didn’t have more). This is the normal way when something needs to be decided in the scope of the team, priorities of work, etc. They might involve other roles like the Account Manager or someone who oversees the project.

  2. On the tactical / coordination level, as a customer you can escalate to one of our Account Managers or the Customer Support Lead, who that is, will be visible in our Customer Portal / VSHN Central.

  3. If it’s urgent in cases of incidents, call us in addition to the ticket, this is a requirement according to our SLAs.

  4. Key Customers also have options for a non-technical coordination 2nd escalation path (in planning, not yet available).

We plan to have a better documented and communicated escalation process for all customers or depending on Service Level Agreement - improving this is independent of having a "Management Role" or not for us, it also wasn’t clear before.

According to Swiss law, the Board ("Verwaltungsrat") holds the "Geschäftsführung" unless it is delegated to some form of "General Managers", a Management Team, etc. This was the case until June 2024. Moving forward, this responsibility will revert to the Board, while day-to-day operations will continue within VSHN. The Board will oversee this process, so there are no legal issues.

In terms of how we work and handle things within VSHN, the Board has no relevance, but as it’s the same people, they already know. So the Board is no escalation point for VSHNeers; we address operational, strategy, organizational, or personal issues within VSHN, together.

Signing Rights

People need to sign legally binding documents and contracts. This was never limited to Management; many people (usually owners, former Management, etc.) have signing rights in pairs, and this will continue. More people can be added if necessary.