Q: How can I structure my company democratically rather than using the traditional command-and-control model?
A: Touchstone is a management-consulting firm, based in Washington, DC that helps leaders develop, launch, and manage their strategies. They have used the democratic principle of decentralization to help overcome the conventional staff hierarchy that characterizes most companies.
The company hosts an open forum every two weeks that belongs solely to the employees. Employees can ask anything they like, and all questions are addressed. Touchstone practices open book management, openly talks about goals, makes everyone’s billable time completely transparent to other staff members, and takes into consideration staff feedback about raises and promotions.
Touchstone uses a democratic “Bubble” structure, which means that any person at any level of the organization can lead a group of staff – not just managers or senior-level people. The leader of the team can ask for and receive whatever level of talent they need to achieve the mission of the project. One result is that senior staff sometimes ends up working under a less-senior staff person who is managing a given project. The reasoning is that the leader is in charge of the deliverable, and has the freedom to develop and implement the project as they fit with the team they need to get the job done well.
Touchstone’s Vice President and Director of Consulting, Tony Summerlin explains their reasoning for having a democratic workplace when he states: “We practice democracy in the workplace because we believe democracy is the foundation for all civil liberties and personal freedoms. We believe democracy instills trust, new thinking, and entrepreneurship in our staff. At Touchstone, people are not focused on their own personal agenda; they take responsibility for themselves and their neighbors.”