The way we cooperate at work is changing. In a culture of being heard, seen and appreciated, hierarchical structures are now being broken down and teams are becoming more international and diverse. A scientist and three employees of EnBW talk to us about the possibilities and concepts of a sustainable working atmosphere.
Work has become more intense: We now manage more in less time and are inundated by an increasing amount of information that we somehow have to process.
Simone Kauffeld, Professor of Industrial/Organizational and Social Psychology at TU Braunschweig has realized that employees are more overloaded today than ever before. “Work has become more intense: We now manage more in less time and are inundated by an increasing amount of information that we somehow have to process.” At the same time, the pandemic has pushed forward new forms of digital working. Simone Kauffeld discovered in a recent study that a majority of employees have always wanted to work on a mobile basis. “This is simply because they can better reconcile their professional and private lives. And companies have now noticed that it actually works!”
“But we have also seen that there needs to be a balance between what the individual wants from their work and what the team needs in order to work together well.” Her appeal to companies is, therefore, that they should continue to promote personal interaction when converting to digital working. “Mobile working brings with it lots more freedom. For example, I do not have to be on-site for every meeting. But depending on the objective, in-person discussions with colleagues on site may continue to be important in order to, for example, build trust, learn from one another and support creative processes,” she states. There needs to be a psychological sense of well-being in the team, so that everyone feels seen and appreciated.
Of course, what counts in the end is the result. But the most important priority is the people themselves.
This basic concept is endorsed by Maureen Burgstahler, who as an agile coach supports numerous teams at EnBW in finding the best form of cooperation. The Group-wide BestWork program aims to find the ideal way for teams to collaborate, in part also through hybrid working, while offering the highest degree of flexibility for every single person. “The special feature here is that the around 1,000 teams in the Group are tasked with finding the right answer for their teams themselves,” she explains. With the support of qualified, mostly internal BestWork coaches, employees are asked to identify their needs: What do they require in order to strengthen their team spirit and sense of teamwork? How should the workplace be designed to facilitate creative collaboration in networks? What are the technical requirements? How will employees be trained in the technology? BestWork asks employees to think flexibly – being open to new ways of working and digital solutions – and managers to have a new understanding in order to facilitate virtual and hybrid forms of collaboration.
It is important to have the right mindset. “Change begins in the mind,” says Burgstahler. “Anyone who has been a manager for 20 years, but has not yet come into contact with cooperative management styles, has to learn that the team decides – and vice versa. It requires a lot of communication and clarification.”
Even before BestWork, she worked on combining traditional hierarchical structures with agile teams at EnBW. Of course, she says, what counts in the end is the result. “But the most important priority is the people themselves. We are not just forcing this through but testing and checking ideas and are open to feedback. If it doesn’t work after three months, we simply change, improve and refine it.”
Strict hierarchical structures are no longer in keeping with the times.
Jacqueline Lange believes that breaking down traditional hierarchical structures is absolutely crucial: “It is also indispensable in our sector. Young people have grown up differently, you can’t integrate them into a strict hierarchy.” Jacqueline Lange began studying nuclear technology in 1989 back in the DDR (German Democratic Republic) and is a qualified engineer specializing in energy technology. She admits that she never made a career plan for herself. “It didn’t matter what position I held, in the first instance I always wanted to just be good at I what I was doing.” However, the company did have a plan: When her name was put forward in 2019 to be the first woman to hold a key position in upper management, “it was clear to me that it was time to do it. And I haven’t regretted it at all.”
Irrespective of gender, the new structures must, of course, be managed differently and more freely. Lange says: “People without a title and shoulder epaulets also have to take responsibility and this is something that we expect. But not everyone who can do a good job is used to taking on responsibility. We have to support and encourage them.”
Lange is also a member of the Global Management Board (GMB), in which the top managers regularly meet to exchange ideas. The GMB used to be a group of 60 high-level managers but today has more than 100 members who are more international and diverse. It acts as a superordinate body, which discusses and develops themes related to the corporate strategy. These themes are then bundled together and disseminated by the members in their respective areas of the company. “The aim is to identify any opportunities for improvement at an early stage and introduce initiatives for the benefit of the company,” says Jaqueline Lange.
Kauffeld, Lange and Burgstahler all agree that self-efficacy, the willingness to change and trust in your own abilities are fundamental for how we will work in the future. These are also qualities that can be trained.
If you don’t have a goal, life has no meaning and you won’t achieve any success.
The 28-year-old Amer Alenklizi has them in his blood. He fled Syria at 18, struggled to secure a work permit in Dubai and moved on to Egypt where he worked for one and a half years, subsequently moved to Turkey and then came to Germany in 2015 and completed a career integration program at EnBW. And what if EnBW hadn’t then offered him an apprenticeship as an industrial mechanic? “To be honest, I would have said goodbye to Germany a long time ago. I don’t stay anywhere if I’m not moving up in the world.”