Growing Mercedes-Benz.io – Sophie Seiwald

Listen to Sophies holacracy pros and cons at 15.08

Sophie is the Managing Director at Mercedes-Benz.io

Although Sophie isn’t a super technical individual (by her own admission) she has always worked in and managed IT teams. A self-professed Daimler child, she started her working life there as an intern then moved into a trainee position. From there, Sophie always found herself working in IT projects.

For Sophie, IT is always one part of a larger project. She is equally comfortable in defining big system landscapes and a projects overall architecture as she is at integrating people and thinking creatively about projects.      


Instigating a flat hierarchy in Mercedes-Benz.io 

‘When I started at Mercedes-Benz.io myself and the CFO both considered removing the company’s flat hierarchy and implementing a ‘traditional’ vertical structure. 

We had a whole bunch of people that asked us to ‘get rid of the whole holacracy topic’. They wanted to, as I’ve mentioned, implement a classic hierarchy and just ‘get on with it’. 

Then we had another bunch of people who said ‘no, this brings a lot of chances and opportunities and so on’. So we decided to wait for 6-months and see how the company operated with no hierarchy.

This waiting period was also a chance for me to see how holacracy operated. I was also new to the concept so I was eager to see how it worked. I was a little bit skeptical but also curious. So we waited for half a year and eventually made a decision.’ – Sophie Seiwald 


The pros and cons of a flat hierarchy

‘We decided to move on with this concept. We wanted our people to be self-organised. We wanted them to actually own what they were doing and give them the freedom to design products by themselves. These are things that holacracy or a ‘responsive organisational framework’ helps you to do. At the same time, you can create a structure and you can create orientation. This is where I believe the strengths of this system lie.

Never the less, there are sometimes problems with the system. If you’re not careful you can get stuck in group discussion trying to figure out who is responsible for projects. You can also see confusion when people are unsure of which role they’re supposed to be taking on a project. 

But, for the things we want to achieve at Mercedes, in terms of the culture we want to celebrate as well as the technical projects we want to complete we thought the responsive organisation format fits better.’ – Sophie Seiwald  


Show Notes:

00.59 Being a Monday morning person

02.26 What is Mercedes-Benz.io

04.28 Growing Mercedes-Benz.io

06.20 3 individual company cultures vs 1 big culture

08.32 Failing fast when creating a culture

11.42 Operating a flat hierarchy

15.08 The pros and cons of a flat hierarchy 

20.55 Who works at Mercedes-Benz.io

22.28 Sophie’s background and career  

23.36 Finding personal mentors 

26.40 Getting comfortable with public speaking

30.57 Let’s talk in real life!

33.03 What advice would you give to yourself 20 years ago?