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A blank sheet of paper. A metaphor often used to describe some of the scariest phases in our lives: the start of something new. The last blank sheet of paper I encountered, except for the one I'm writing this blog on, was the start of my traineeship. Ironically enough, I found out on the first day that the trainee project I would be working on was called ‘blank sheet of paper’. The main question was: “How would you organise TNO if you start on a blank sheet of paper?”. I did not even know TNO yet and now I was supposed to answer this question?!
Luckily, my trainee team welcomed me with open arms. We started the project with two days of brainstorming at a lovely location in Bergen op Zoom. We engaged in some thought experiments that led us to four differently organised TNOs – all based on existing, successful organisational structures. Without further ado we presented these four scenarios to the Board of Directors. Only two months in and there I stood, in front of such an audience, defending the case for a flat, self-organising TNO with no leaders at all! The presentation resulted in inspiration and quite some questions: how do such seemingly crazy structures work in different organisations?
This gave me the opportunity to visit both the ING and Google headquarters in the Netherlands. With a background in work and organisational psychology, I was intrigued by how a company as big as ING is making the switch from a very traditional structure to an agile way of working. I was also surprised by Google’s office, which had one single purpose: facilitating the employees in their idea generation. From brainfood not being further away than 50 meters to a ‘FEBO’ machine with technical supplies.
These and some other companies taught us that culture is just as important as, or maybe even more important than the organisational structure it surrounds. The culture within a company facilitates and motivates the employees to do what they do best and the structure is the backbone they can always rely on. So how would I organise TNO if I started on a blank sheet of paper? I do not know, but hopefully our project has inspired people to ponder this question and consider this interaction between culture and structure.
What I do know is that I loved the opportunity to creatively explore a strategic question, to find best practices outside of TNO and to work closely with a great team of trainees. In the end, the blank sheet was not that scary at all – it was just one filled with amazing opportunities!
Name: Lotte Schuilenborg
Background: Social Sciences - Economics and Psychology (BA) en Work & Organizational Psychology (MSc.)
First department: Work, Health & Technology