Collective Leadership

Everyone Comes Up with Ideas

Ingenieursbureau Amsterdam (IBA) had to shift gears: become more decisive yet remain innovative. How do you organize that? Director Alexandra van Olst and Deputy Director Noortje de Geus believe that creating opportunities go hand in hand with new forms of business practice: collective leadership.

Caroline van der Linden from de Baak: "What are you proud of? What is a “gem” at IBA?"
“Everyone—truly everyone—takes on his or her role, thereby taking on the future of IBA. I believe that everyone knows that we are now experiencing difficult times. But surprisingly, we are not bogged down with the cutbacks by ‘fussing over deck chairs,’ but focused on seizing opportunities in a changed field. Ten years ago, through the municipal secretary of Amsterdam, we managed to change the management, streamline and become more dynamic, including management. We are doing well. As a relatively small player in the field, we can still come to the table with large contract-awarding companies to discuss the most exciting projects in the Netherlands. These include IJburg, the North-South Line and the Zuidas business district. We are responsible for the often innovative technical supervision of such large-scale, complex projects. This is where technological tour de forces, complicated city politics and corporate thinking come together.”

What makes you so special to be asked to do this?
“The fact that two women happen to be at the top in a ‘man’s’ world has nothing to do with it. Attention provides growth and we give primary attention to our employees and our customers. We develop our employees and stimulate the networks, particularly knowledge development and division. We see what kind of knowledge is needed for Amsterdam and environs—and possibly beyond—for the future, such as land reclamation in a project like IJburg. And aside from knowledge of complex technology, the legal context and consultative culture are important factors in successful projects. We would like to develop that knowledge further and be asked about it. We would like to get closer to the source of the client. We help the client to ask the right questions and formulate the assignments better. We simply have good people and build on trust.”

What is your leadership style?
“We demand and work on trust and good relationships. They do not develop automatically. We are value-driven: trust in each other, openness, taking and giving responsibility (‘everyone has to contribute ideas’), and generosity. Sometimes we disorganize in that sense: rules are there to help us, not to obstruct us. We would like things to be simpler, back to basics, where a promise is a promise and we do not get lost in a jungle of agreements. At present, we are really working hard on collective leadership. As the management, our role is to design the framework and assist, not ‘by definition’, i.e. based on our position, being out in front or in view of the customer. Our colleagues are just as proud and can often do the story better! A colleague recently said to me: ‘If I need you, you’re there and I know that you support me.’ From monitoring to trust. From individual islands to responsibility within a collective. This is an experiment we believe in and want to try out.”

How about entrepreneurship?
“It is so intertwined in our work that we do not see it as a separate theme. We are part of the government, but each year we are judged by our results and we have to show our public added value. So we have to be enterprising. We can create more of our own distinct profile with our image and reputation; in that sense we are somewhat hidden behind the ‘Amsterdam’ label. We are not the types to put ourselves in the limelight. Technology is still considered to be unsexy. Well: you should come by and have a look at how many wonderful, stylish people are at our offices!”

Caroline van der Linden, Program Director and Trainer

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