The meaning of democracy for a new working world – an interview with Dr. Andreas Zeuch


As coach, author and consultant, Andreas Zeuch wants to make work more self-determined and democratic. Because why should you give up the democratic achievements valued so highly in a social political context in your working environment? In the interview with the Workpath Magazine Andreas talks about this, about next steps for a new working world and more.

Hello Andreas. Thank you that you talk with us today for the Workpath Magazine. Your book “Alle Macht für niemand. Aufbruch der Unternehmensdemokraten” (All power for nobody. The awakening of the organizational democrats) already celebrated its 3rd birthday this year. What do the Unternehmensdemokraten stand for and what is their next step?

We stand for a participatory working world in which all employees are invited by organizations to lead and design organizations. You can describe that as democratization of work. But of course you can also use terms like new work, work 4.0 and self-organization. In the future we want to contribute to that formally-fixed hierarchies are not taken for granted anymore, but as one out of many options. Because until today the classic operational and organizational structure is THE standard model and standard narrative. Only few employees, leaders and top management know that it can also be down differently. 

The current legal situation has not appeared out of the blue and can be adapted to the modern demands of organizations.

Tell us a bit about what you did so far in the context of the Unternehmensdemokraten and your work as coach.  Which topics did you work with mainly?

I mostly work as consultant, helping organizations in their way towards more agility, participation and self-organization. I work with companies of all sizes. Ranging from small firms with 40 to big corporations with 1000 employees in diverse industries. Within my work there are several subtopics. Most often the focus is on cultural questions, how to sustainably convince leaders to give their employees more decision making power and in turn how the employees can then also accepts and live those opportunities. Of course, subsequently there are also important methodological questions coming up. For example, which decision making instruments are useful and appropriate in which contexts.

With all that the participatory-democratic element is most important to me. Because after all we live in a democracy, oftentimes work in more or less autocratic systems though. For me this is a huge contradiction, also if it is explained from a legal point of view with property rights and the legally codified responsibility of top management. That is reasonable to a certain degree but the current legal situation has not appeared out of the blue and can be adapted to the modern demands of organizations.

Why is self-determined work such an important topic? What should organizations do to live democracy?

From my perspective there are two dimensions. An economic and a socio-cultural one. Economically, it is often necessary to become more flexible and agile and strengthen the innovation of an organization. Here, it is mainly about the economic success of an enterprise. The socio-cultural dimension then is about enjoyment of work, the release of intrinisc motivation. That is on the one hand a relatively soft feel-good factor but on the other hand also a partially measurable aspect. For instance in the sense of the number of seek leaves and the fluctuation rate.

I find the question why we live in a democracy that is divided in half still interesting today. Socio-politically probably nobody wants to live in autocracy. There everybody wants to live the benefits of democracy. But when it is about work, we suddenly give up our democratic achievements. What about e.g. the chartered right of freedom of speech? Theoretically, also in an organization nobody can forbid me to speak up. But factually the one or the other career already went down the drain, because somebody expressed his honest opinion about something. Interestingly, we are allowed and should live a more or less self-determined private life. But when we are at our workplace this suddenly does not hold anymore. This discrepancy in my opinion is very questionable.

This year you founded priomy. What was the reason for it?

That is pretty simple. I am a self-emploed, independent consultant since 15 years now and longed for daily work in a team again. Moreover, I could not realize the idea of a platform for self-determined work that offers more than consulting, training, coaching and presentations  alone. More concret we want to help shaping the future of work with the following:

  • A niche job market exclusively for employers and employees that have a true interest in self-determined work.
  • With the CultureCheck we offer organizations the possibility to assess the status of their self-determined work (agility, new work, self-organization, organizational democracy, …) and make it transparent to outsiders.
  • For employees we offer a CompetenceCheck, which is the equivalent to the CultureCheck.
  • We will develop diverse event formats and cooperations with the purpose of driving and developing the topics together. On the 15th of June we had our first  (Un)Konferenz ((anti)conference) in Berlin with the focus: fear of freedom.
  • With priomy.pieces we offer a sustainable employer branding by developing and executing performances and acts in the offline world together with our clients. With this we want to help solve one of the biggest problems: the lack of visibility of small and medium sized enterprises on the job market.
  • Last but not least we of course do not lose our common roots: consulting, training, coaching and presentations.

All transformations towards more agility and self-organization still reach their limits due to legal frameworks.

What has to happen next with regards to a new working world? What is still not working? And what can organizations and individuals contributes towards it?

Good question! The chronology I don’t dare to fix here. I think at the moment we need several parallel developments. So the following points are not a temporarily ordered list:

  • We need a reformation of the company law. Our public companies like  GmbH, AG etc. are all there because of the old working world, in which nobody thought about the agile, self-determined working processes, cultures and structures of today. That is understandable but has to change soon. All transformations towards more agility and self-organization still reach their limits due to legal frameworks. The top management still has the sole responsibility and can therefore at all times e.g. declare a sociocratic organisational model null and void.
  • Our education oftentimes is not helpful to prepare people for self-determined work. It starts with our parents – I just recently wrote a blog post about it. Schools and later also universities and professional training are oftentimes not there to foster work and actions for which you have your own responsibility.
  • We need tax decreases for organizations that realize our democratic values better than regular top-down organizations. I think of proposals of the public welfare economy, along different dimensions like sustainable production and distribution, participation and the like, to offer more tax reliefs.

What was your best new work moment? When did you think (for the last time) “we are on the right track”?

There was not one big moment but many different ones. A client came back to me and said that his work since our corporation now runs more smoothly and he enjoys it way more. Or a chairwoman of a management board that was not just very open during our first call but really appreciated my critical questions of her plans. Or a member of exactly this management board that came back to me after the initial workshop and called me a “reflection machine”, which of course was meant as compliment.

That I am on the right track I thought for the last time just this week at an event with about 70 leaders of a subsidiary of a big corporation. There we set much into movement. This was especially great because they organized the 2 days completely alone. And the program was excellent.

The objective of the event was to include leaders under the management board in the ongoing transformation and to together with them create the further course of action. With different formats like world-café and barcamp we identified important topics and prepared the for the handling in the organization.

Next to this, the participants wanted collect ideas for the change process through inputs from different people. Therefore we had 3 mini workshops where former facilitators and me worked on different topics with the participants. I hereby was responsible for the input regarding democratization of organizations to demonstrate what other firms achieved, how they accomplished it and what obstacles they encountered on the way.

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