Democratic companies? Several non-academic articles contain sentences such as: “Bye dictator”, “No more hierarchy” and “Democratic structures enter companies”. What you mean by that seems to be obvious: Employees are increasingly allowed to have a say in companies and now the first ideas are loud like: “Let’s choose the managers ourselves”.
But let’s start from the beginning. I first went looking for literature in academic databases and found many empirical studies that democracy works very well, especially in the non-profit sector. Then I talked to some clubs I knew and noticed that these studies seem to be largely correct. The academic journal articles call for an empirical test in companies as well. The authors Sattelberger et al. with her book on “Democratic Enterprises”. Democracy in companies apparently offers another approach to a sustainable company alongside Sociocracy and Holocracy .

How realistic is democracy in companies?

demokratische Unternehmen
Summary of the attractiveness and the feasibility of democracy in the company (own illustration based on the idea of Sattelberger)

The authors of the book first assessed the feasibility of democracy in companies and came to the conclusion that this form appears attractive and realistic. The study was carried out among 1,000 employees. However, there is strong interest in this rather young idea (democracy in companies).

What is preventing companies from doing this?

Demokratie im Unternehmen
Current obstacles to the introduction of democratic structures in the company (own illustration based on the study by Sattelberger)

On the basis of the survey, the author now turns to the possible obstacles for democratic companies. The top barriers, according to this study, seem to be: transparency, equity participation, and choice. Of course, the result is on the one hand logical, since classic companies and societies such as the AG are simply not made for democratically electing superiors. According to the author, a fundamental structural change is necessary here.

How do democratic companies “live”?

Many companies are already considering what such a democracy could look like. A thesis that is often given in various sources is: “Digital technologies facilitate co-determination”. Can the future look like this: employees choose managers, vote on new products, decide on working hours and customers? This topic is currently still highly controversial and offers space for further research. The fact is, however, that the current generation seems to have “no fancy” for outside control and, thanks to digital technologies, coordination processes are now also easy. The CEO of Microsoft Germany said: “We used to look for employees who do what we say, today we are looking for employees who do what we don’t say.” He sees this as a success factor, as decisions are often made too slowly. However, it remains open how and whether this type of democracy can contribute to the sustainability of companies. We are still at the beginning of our research and it will be exciting to see what findings will emerge.
[werbung] Verwendete Quellen anzeigen

Sattelberger, T., Welpe, I., & Boes, A. (2015). The democratic company. Munich: Haufe Verlag.



I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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