You are here

Bosses Without Power: the Efficiency of Democratic Company Governance

Published on
09 January 2017

What if a sustainable company was one led by powerless bosses? In other words, what are the advantages of a democratic governance structure? We speak with Stéphane Jaumier, a researcher and professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management. He recently published the results from his research carried out within a worker cooperative that runs a sheet-metal factory in France.

A successful worker cooperative

Scopix was set up 30 years ago when the owner of the company decided to shut down the factory. Now, the organization is made up of approximately 25 employees, almost all of whom are also associates in the cooperative. To understand the success behind this organization, Stéphane Jaumier a researcher and professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management. He recently published the results from his research carried out within a worker cooperative that runs a sheet-metal factory in France.

"My first idea was to accompany the company in its implementation of management tools. I worked in the workshop for one month as a temporary worker and then for a year as part of production. Everyone was aware of my role as a management researcher," explains Stéphane. The goal was to carry out an ethnography of the company's organization by adopting the perspective of internal company players.

Managers that don't manage

The researcher chose to study Scopix because of its unusual governance structure. "Scopix operates with a supervisory board and an executive board. The supervisory board is made up of three people elected by all employees for a duration of six years. The executive board also includes three members, who are chosen by the supervisory board for a duration of four years. Currently, both boards are made up almost exclusively of workshop workers. This is a unique characteristic that distinguishes Scopix from other worker cooperatives, which are usually led by a general manager who is a professional manager or someone with a management background." underlines Stéphane.

A supervisory board that hardly supervises

Being elected to the supervisory board was mostly seen as a sign of popularity. Once elected, the board members would designate the executive board members and then for the most part, appear to be uninterested in further supervision. "The responsibility of managing the company is mainly attributed to the executive board, whose members must continue their usual work load in the factory while adding several hours a week to handle management issues. In addition, the executive board appeared to have very little influence on the overall orientation of the cooperative. The same goes for its various managers in the factory, accounting, sales, etc." adds Stéphane.

Powerless bosses are the result of a very operational organization

"Scopix's organizational structure is very open. Everything is laid out in the open. Conflicts are discussed all day long and contact with authority figures is direct. This is one of the organization's key characteristics." highlights Stéphane. Governance plays a reduced role. There are rules, however there's always a bit of leeway between a rule and how it's enforced. Everything is done to delegitimize authority.

While the company does have certain mechanisms designed to provide managers with legitimacy, Stéphane's study of the organization's day to day operations highlighted that three factors contributed to sapping the managers' effective authority. "First, co-operators relentlessly voiced their refusal of a divide between chiefs and lay members. This contributed to reaffirming a group culture in which there was limited room for hierarchical power. Second, co-operators expressed permanent criticism and requests for accountability towards chiefs, which put them in infinite debt towards members, a situation that conspicuously contradicts their authority. Third, co-operators used schoolboy humour to undermine chiefs' credibility and to limit their claims to authority."

"If the company operates in this manner, there's a reason for it. If bosses are rendered powerless, it's because the organization is set up in a very operational manner. It's based on reverse dominance hierarchy, which is described by the anthropologist Boehm. This model guarantees an egalitarian operation and sharing of power." says Stéphane. As a result, the key finding of this research is that strategic missions are carried out in a collective manner by all co-operators.

Read article | Read thesis 

On the same subject

  • Formation continue : savoir piloter les transformations
    Published on 11 March 2022

    Formation continue : savoir piloter les transformations

    Le Certificat Manager une activité en contexte de transformation, délivré par GEM, dote les professionnels en activité des compétences managériales, comportementales et émotionnelles leur permettant de relever les défis de l’agilité.

  • Published on 17 June 2021

    The Executive Leadership Certificate: a 360 degree approach

    In 2019, the Leadership Institute in Quebec partnered with Grenoble Ecole de Management, heralding a first-of-its-kind leadership training program in France. Rachel Rossetto, manager of an agri-food production plant, completed the Executive...

  • Published on 17 June 2021

    Le Certificat en Executive Leadership : une approche à 360 degrés

    Rachel Rossetto est directrice de l’usine de production Le Moulin de la Chaume, du groupe Agromousquetaires. Elle a suivi le programme du Certificat en Executive Leadership en distanciel. Et témoigne de son retour d’expérience.

  • Former des coachs opérationnels à la résolution des conflits
    Published on 09 April 2021

    Training operational coaches how to resolve conflicts

    Grenoble Ecole de Management is offering two certification-based coaching courses as part its executive education program: Supporting individuals with a multidisciplinary coaching approach and Coaching teams or individuals through behavioral agility.

  • Published on 09 February 2021

    Emotional skills are key to resilience in management

    Fostering resilience during a crisis can be a game changer for managers and their team members. And the key to achieving this? Emotional skills offer a fundamental building block for managers to promote collaboration, resilience and well-being.

  • Published on 09 February 2021

    Les compétences émotionnelles au cœur du management résilient

    Développer ses compétences émotionnelles dans les relations intra et inter-organisations, améliore la prise de décisions et la performance des acteurs. Comment les compétences émotionnelles génèrent-elles une collaboration fructueuse ?

  • Solutions (c) olivierLeMoal- GettyImages
    Published on 16 November 2020

    Why choose a Solution Focused Approach?

    ercoming limitations thanks to a Solution Focused Approach? The concept comes to us from the USA and has spread around the globed. The keys to this approach are found in describing and accepting limitations in order to free our creativity and co-...

  • Vers des notations financières responsables et durables
    Published on 14 September 2020

    Sustainability in credit ratings

    The importance of environmental and social governance (ESG) has grown rapidly over the past years. As a result, investor demand for ESG information has also grown. How are companies and credit ratings adapting to this evolution?

  • Est-ce la mort annoncée de la « fast fashion » ?
    Published on 20 January 2020

    Is “fast fashion” coming to an end?

    H&M, Zara, Forever 21, Gap, Bershka… Fast fashion brands are recognizable around the world. Despite representing 10-20% of the global fashion market, is this business model coming to an end?

  • Est-ce la mort annoncée de la « fast fashion » ?
    Published on 20 January 2020

    Fast fashion : la mort annoncée ?

    Le modèle économique low-cost, porté par quelques mastodontes du prêt-à-porter, s’essouffle-t-il au profit d’une mode plus « durable » ?

  • Les dynamiques de pouvoir dans le domaine du coaching
    Published on 24 January 2019

    The power dynamics in coaching

    Interpersonal relationships are a fundamental key to successful coaching. However, recent research highlights the importance of going beyond the coach-coachee relationship in order to consider triangular power relationships between coach, coachee...

  • Michel Albouy, professeur de finance à GEM
    Published on 21 December 2018

    France implements an important change for its income tax

    On January 1, 2019, all French residents will begin paying income tax on a monthly basis. Discover the details of this change.

  • Nathalie Devillier, professeure de droit, à Grenoble Ecole de Management
    Published on 26 April 2018

    General Data Protection Regulation Increases Company Responsibility

    New European regulations on data protection will increase the rights and privacy of internet users in Europe. However, much of the burden of this increased protection will fall on companies. How can businesses prepare for this change?

  • Les conditions licites de la cybersurveillance du salarié
    Published on 25 January 2018

    Workplace Cyber Surveillance: Rights and Obligations

    Can a business spy on its employees? Yes, within certain limits. Discover how European courts regulate workplace cyber surveillance.

  • Les conditions licites de la cybersurveillance du salarié
    Published on 25 January 2018

    Cybersurveillance : Quels droits et obligations pour l’employeur (et réciproquement) ?

    La Cour européenne des droits de l’homme impose des limites au contrôle des communications électroniques par l’employeur, qui reste régi par chaque Etat membre.

  • Published on 09 January 2017

    Les chefs sans pouvoir : condition d’efficacité d’une organisation ?

    Les leviers d’une gouvernance démocratique efficace expliqués par S. Jaumier, chercheur à Grenoble Ecole de Management, qui a conduit son étude en s'immergeant dans une SCOP.

  • Published on 07 November 2014

    Research : Digitization, Changing How We Work and Coordinate Projects

    All of us use digital tools and objects that can now be shared and combined in a variety of ways. This change has profoundly influenced the organization of work with projects being divided according to specialization and geographical location.

  • Published on 07 November 2014

    Recherche : Effets spéciaux pour le cinéma, l’art de faire collaborer 60 métiers

    Comment les spécialistes des effets spéciaux collaborent-ils sur un même film alors qu’ils appartiennent à 60 métiers différents et sont répartis dans le monde entier ? Deux chercheurs de GEM ont étudié les mécanismes de coordination qui structurent...