How to kill a great organisation?:

No way. Feelings have no place at work! 

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„Higher, faster, further“ was the mantra in Gerhard Filzwieser’s life for a long time, both professionally and in sport. Until it no longer felt right to him.

In an interview with Markus Petz, he describes his personal change of values, which also showed him the potential of feeling and intuition. Together with his wife, he has left behind classic hierarchical structures in his company Filzwieser GmbH, a plastics processing company, and instead focuses on personal responsibility and self-organisation.

The classic mantras of maximisation have had their day

„Higher, faster, further“ was a faithful companion in Filzwieser’s life for a long time, both professionally and in sport. Until it no longer felt right to him, from his own actions to many paradigms that guide us in our everyday business life. He describes his personal change in values, which also opened up the potential of feeling and intuition for him.

This was the trigger for a new path. A path that was to bring personal meaning, discovering and living for oneself and one’s employees into harmony with a necessary economic success.

Leaving behind classical forms of hierarchy and focusing on intuition, personal responsibility and self-organisation

A new identity for the company, the answer to the question: „Why we do what we do“, and unconventional action values to fill all this with life were the beginning. Focusing on diversity, leaving the classic hierarchy behind and finding a new, natural order through personal responsibility and self-organisation were some of the consequences.

On leaving hierarchies behind, Filzwieser says:

„Let’s give people the freedom to do it their way and also give them the opportunity to let their talents and ideas flow in the company where it is needed.“

He goes into detail about the decoupling of power and responsibility and how it was implemented in his company through the introduction of areas of responsibility. He also talks about how it was initially difficult and unfamiliar to challenge patterns learned over many years and to change the organisation to ownership and self-organisation. This was not a change project in the classical sense, but rather a path that has to be walked constantly.

There is no blueprint, what is important is continuous reflection and forward movement

Filzwieser sees his role in the company as a „light-bringer“, as someone who gives orientation and direction: „I would like to build a biotope here where people feel like discovering themselves and also living.“ There are no blueprints for profound change, no process that is predefined from beginning to end. There is a direction and then one step follows the other.

„It often takes a lot of developmental pain for us to get moving and go into change. That’s what it means, it’s just the continuous movement, always keeping at it and always reflecting. And always asking ourselves, how do we deal with each other?“

In order to share and discuss his ideas with others, Filzwieser has developed his own event format, which he calls „Dialogue in the Studio“. It is about a reconsideration of those topics that change direction in a time of fundamental change. Economic success is to be brought into harmony with more meaning and personal joy. Economic, social, but also personal paradigms are to be questioned and some are to be changed.

Wir fassen zusammen

How to kill a great organisation: 

  • Put your money on your rational mind. Feelings have no place at work.
  • Your goal should always be „higher, faster, further“! Economic success is above all else.
  • Rely on tried and tested patterns: on a strict hierarchy and defined task areas with predefined solutions.
  • Rely on ego people to move the company forward.

Give your feelings space and create a working environment in which all employees can develop

  • Leave room, besides their intellect, for their feelings and intuition and recognise them as equal.
  • The classic mantras of maximisation have had their day. The rough orientation should focus on the „why“. Economic success should be brought in line with more meaning and personal joy.
  • Give people the freedom to do it their own way and also give them the opportunity to let their talents and ideas flow into the organisation where it is needed.
  • An organisation that is built on personal responsibility and self-organisation only works if the „we“ is bigger than the „I“ and with employees who feel comfortable in this environment. There is no place for egoists.

The full length interview:

This text was translated by a machine and clearly shows that we still have a long way to go before we are in danger of being rendered obsolete by A.I..

Markus Petz: Welcome to the new episode of the „How to Kill a Great Organisation?“ podcast. We talk to the people who are crucial to the long-term success of their organisation. My name is Markus Petz and today I’m talking to Gerhard Filzwieser, owner and CEO of Filzwieser GmbH, a plastics processing company. Welcome dear Gerhard.

Gerhard Filzwieser: Yes, thank you very much. Thank you also for the invitation!

Markus Petz: Today we want to deal with the topic: „What space do feelings have at work? But first I invite you to introduce yourself briefly.

Gerhard Filzwieser: Yes, very, very much. As I said, I am Gerhard Filzwieser, I was born in 65, I say that because it is clear that I enjoyed the socialisation of „higher, faster, further“ under inverted commas, which was common at that time. Over many, many years in my life, that is – by training I am a qualified business economist, which means that for a long time I was very very numbers-heavy and head-oriented. And I also lived according to the „higher, faster, further“ principle in my job as well as in sport. And yes, I came into contact with entrepreneurship very early, actually in the middle of my studies, when my father founded this plastics processing company, of which I am the owner and managing director today. And yes, this „higher, faster, further“. At some point in my life, there was a break and a change in values, so that I can say that I am still an entrepreneur today, but I have taken on a different role and in the meantime I have been able to give space to topics that have moved away from my head. So today, for example, I’m very passionate about photography, artistic photography, and recently also about the subject of what you can do with plastic waste in an exciting way. From an artistic point of view.

Markus Petz: Now you have told me that you have been designing in this company for a very long time. And of course I did a bit of research. You are a plastics processing company that employs about 100 people. And now, the exciting thing is: I read that you no longer have a hierarchy. And now my question is: How can I imagine that? Or how did it come about? Because it wasn’t always like that and I find that quite exciting. How did that come about? How was it then implemented in the organisation?

Gerhard Filzwieser: Yes, that is of course a double question that I could probably talk about for a very, very long time on my own. I will try to get to the point. Still understandable. Well, I have to be honest and say that the path to this point was a rather long one. It had to do with my, as I said, change in values. At some point in my life, I came to the point where I realised that „higher, faster, further“ no longer felt right, and that was a bit of a dive into the fog of searching for what was right, and the central question was: „What feels right? So I never asked myself what do I want, what do I have to do in order to be successful in the classical sense, in the material sense? For me, the question was: What feels right? And there was, as I said, also this change in values, that I was aware that „higher, faster, further“ doesn’t get us humans any further, doesn’t get me personally any further. And at some point, in addition to my intellect and mental thinking, I got to know and learned to love feeling as at least an equal partner, so to speak, to intellect. And that led me to this change in my professional life, in my company. And about the question first of identity and why, of entrepreneurial activity and the various values.

Gerhard Filzwieser: I changed many paradigms. And then at some point I realised that this classical hierarchy, according to which we are actually socialised. Neither felt right nor gave me any pleasure. In the course of time, we also said goodbye to this classical object thinking, which also serves the hierarchy very well. And in this question yes, if it is no longer the hierarchy, what is it actually? I didn’t have the answer right away. So it was clear that I no longer wanted the hierarchy. But what is it? What is the alternative? And that’s where I got a very good external impulse in this search, and I got it by reading the customer magazine, Sansibar im Süd. That is, of course, it has nothing to do with industry etc., but the impulse was that the employees were interviewed there. What do you associate with the theme of freedom? And one of the employees said. Here in Zanzibar, I am responsible for making the customers happy, and I have every freedom to do that in my own way. And with this key sentence, it was clear to me what it takes.  Namely, to give people the space, to no longer lock them up in any departments or hierarchies, to lock them up in the tasks they should do and the ones they are not allowed to do.

Gerhard Filzwieser: And also no longer imprison them in any fixed processes. Because I am convinced that every person is unique and forcing them to do something only in a defined way actually restricts them. And that was a bit of the initial impulse to come up with the idea of saying away with the hierarchy. Let’s give people the freedom to do things their own way and give them the opportunity to let their talents and ideas flow into the company where they are needed. So, that was perhaps a bit of a lengthy introduction to the why. And as you can imagine, it is like this. There is, so to speak, no longer the classic boss and no longer any decision-making authority. Originally, what we did was define so-called fields. We called them fields of responsibility and said that people organise themselves in them and make their own decisions. And at the end of the day, if someone has to say in an individual case and this is how we do it now, then it is just the clarity of responsibility in the last step.

Gerhard Filzwieser: That means that we have, so to speak, decoupled power and responsibility. Responsibility is part of the task, but no longer linked to power. And that is where we have optimised ourselves. And from 14 initial fields of responsibility in the company, only three remain. We have it. You can imagine it quite simply. We have everything that creates value. And we have two technical areas: injection moulding and film extrusion. There we have combined all the tasks that add value. And then we have a so-called support field. That means that there are three people in charge, so to speak, because we have three fields and there are simply people working in them who defacto/everyone has certain core tasks, but which are no longer written down on paper and where there are also no, no organigrams underneath, but there are. There is a kind of natural hierarchy that has remained.

Markus Petz: Now you have. At some point you felt that this „higher, further, faster“ just didn’t feel right any more. And then there were the next impulses. How did the staff react to that? Because to this day, my perception is that we are still very much socialised in this direction of „faster, higher, further“. What was the reaction of your staff to this change?

Gerhard Filzwieser: Yes, it was. Of course, it was quite unusual. Yes, I agree, the socialisation over many years or decades has eaten into us to some extent, one would say. It was very, very, very unusual for the staff at the beginning. To be honest, there was also a certain selection process at the beginning in the sense that such a culture does not really allow one thing to flourish. And that is the personal ego, i.e. an organisation that is built on personal responsibility and self-organisation only works if the „we“ is greater than the „I“. But now not only thought from the mind, but felt from within. And that, of course, also collides with our, I would say, already classic, widespread, ego and partly also narcissism culture. And the people who still need this naturally do not feel comfortable in such an organisation. They lack the filling stations for the ego and the others do not feel comfortable with their ego. That means there was a certain selection process at the beginning. And yes, but then people who enjoy such a culture are attracted to it again! So it’s a longer process and it’s not a change project in that sense, but it’s a path, a perpetual path that you take.

Markus Petz: Now you also talked about the fact that feelings played a big role as a trigger for you and also that the invitation is there, so to speak, to show oneself, because that is often the issue in organisations, that we are on the road with masks, that we do not show ourselves in our wholeness, but very strongly limited only to what should be seen in the immediate professional role. And that is my question: How do you cultivate that your feelings are expressed at work? Not only are you allowed to, but you are also supposed to. What practice have you developed for this?

Gerdhard Filzwieser: In principle it is, I would say, quite simply living one’s own life. I don’t think there are any models for this, but basically. It was a personal need for me in my own change of values, because I discovered that beyond reason, numbers, orientation and „higher, faster, further“ – there is something else in me. And at some point I discovered that for myself and continued to cultivate it. And that was ultimately the point for me where I said. Namely, with the question of why: „Why should all the people go into this company every day? It was just on the subject of what should it give people in addition to the material basis? And that was my personal demand, that I said I would like to build a biotope here in which people feel like discovering themselves and living. Because it came from myself to some extent and I wanted to give it to others as well. But you have to realise that it was perhaps a bit naïve, because I had to realise that this is not necessarily what the majority of people want. There are still too many fears on the way to live and say that, to show oneself, to show oneself courageously and to say So, that’s me! To show oneself with one’s faults and vulnerability is something that many people still lack the courage to do. And I believe that you can only do that by example, by doing. And it also requires a culture of not judging everything, of not living in dualism, only right or wrong, but rather a bit of integral thinking. And personally my wife supports me very strongly in this, she is a very strong emotional person, she can do this much, much better than I can. And she simply approaches people with feelings. And that is, I would say, a challenge for some people. In the worst case, it can sometimes even be disturbing. But I think that’s the only way people will find the courage to say yes, I’d like to try that too.

Markus Petz: But now I imagine that if there is no longer a formal hierarchy, then a natural hierarchy emerges in the sense of where there is competence, where there is initiative, where there is personal responsibility and self-organisation. And at the same time, there needs to be something like orientation for the people in the organisation. How did you manage that? So on the one hand, this possibility of self-development while at the same time ensuring a direction, an orientation.

Gerhard Filzwieser: Yes, I would say that orientation is a very, very important word, because we have orientation. We hardly have any classical goals any more. So for us, orientation has replaced the goal, and the very rough orientation for us actually lies in the why. And the why for us has these two facets. I always say that it is this duality of directions. One is the purely material, the one that no longer expresses itself as the goal of profit maximisation, where I have said that money is not really an end in itself. Basically, it’s about us people earning our living here. That is the one guiding principle. That is, we have to live as an organisation, to survive, so that we earn our material livelihood. That is a relatively simple orientation. We see how we are doing every month. And the second factor is how this biotope should be designed for people. How we meet each other, how we deal with each other. Of course, it is difficult to measure this in a classical way, but all you can really do is feel your way through it and say: How am I doing? Do I feel comfortable here with the way we deal with each other or not? That is, so to speak, the very rough basic orientation. And with that, we enter into, let’s say, our own flow of development. And it always shows itself somehow. There are always situations where it becomes clear that some special orientation is needed.

Gerhard Filzwieser: And then one simply responds to the respective situation. And this orientation can either be found by the people themselves, in the self-organisation. Of course they don’t do this 100%. It would be presumptuous to believe that it works. Then there is an external impulse. I say that I always call it putting up a piece, a light, so to speak, so that people can find their own way. But if they can’t find it all by themselves at that particular point.

Markus Petz: And from whom does the external impulse come?

Gerhard Filzwieser: It’s a bit my role. I am no longer classically operationally active in the company. I am actually more concerned with the culture, with the direction, with the development, i.e. the development of the people. Of course, I still contribute my business knowledge, I take someone by the hand, so to speak, when they need someone. Yes, in many cases I am the light showman. So when it’s more about, I would say, material issues. And as I said, my wife is very good with feelings and she feels people acutely. She’s the light-shower when it comes to people’s personal issues.

Markus Petz: Now I have also read on your website that you have also laid down values that are also supposed to give orientation. Could you say something about that?

Gerhard Filzwieser: With pleasure. The values were actually at the very, very beginning, when we started to change the culture, so to speak. In addition to identity, the next question was: If we no longer want to organise ourselves in the classical way through predefined processes, what can we give people as rough guidelines to orient themselves by? And we deliberately called them action values, because we say, yes, it should support us in our thinking and, above all, in our actions. And those were five values. We didn’t want to go into too much detail, and these are topics like, for example. At the beginning, we asked how we wanted to deal with the issue of growth. Most companies simply want to grow every year. The question „Why actually?“ is usually not answered. It seems to have become an end in itself. Then we asked ourselves, for example, „How do we want to deal with it?“. Do we need and want growth to fill our why with life?  There was actually the clear answer. No, we definitely don’t need it. And that is why we also said that it is no longer a direction/goal to want to grow. So not in the material, in the external, but at best only in the quality of the organisation or in the development of people. Or I asked myself, what, how can I, so to speak, expand our basic business – that is, we mainly produce customer-specific products for many industrial customers. What could be an orientation when looking for projects and customers? And I said that the first thing is to find the right customer.

Gerhard Filzwieser: And then to find brilliant solutions. And that was quite irritating for the employees at the very beginning. Because they thought to themselves. Because in the past the thought pattern was: aha an enquiry, we offer that. And now I have more or less turned it around and said: aha, an interested party, an enquiry, first see if we offer it at all and then; That was of course very irritating because people thought, now he’s crazy. He should be happy that we have enquiries. But then I said that it shouldn’t come across as arrogant. But if we want to find brilliant solutions for our customers, then we have to look deep inside: Are we the right people for the job? And if we want to live our values, we can only do that if we have people and partners who make that possible. If we can’t share basic values, then it’s not right. And then in the end neither side is happy. And that was such a value, or a value that is very important, which people still find difficult to deal with today. It’s just in demand. Okay, if we want to promote the material, the economic efficiency in trade and at the same time, as human beings, we don’t want to run faster and faster in the hamster wheel. What can be a basic guideline? And in the end there was this awareness that we in the companies deal with far too many unnecessary things. And then I said that trade value is essence and the short way to the goal. I said: take a close look and throw away everything that is not really useful. And there I had to throw away a lot of my own learned and business knowledge. But admittedly, that is still difficult for people today.

Markus Petz: That sounds incredibly exciting now, to do something with this development of values. Yes, that. People have not/ Not that they think I’m crazy. Who was involved in this development of values?

Gerhard Filzwieser: Basically, I have to say, it was. It was now. nobody. Nobody on the outside. It came into being and grew within me and my wife, we complemented each other very well. I think that is very important. I am convinced that today there are no blueprints for this, for this time of change. I believe that everyone has to search for and find their own identity. And it wasn’t a path that was written on paper from beginning to end, but rather it was always, so to speak, what one saw at that moment and considered necessary and right. And one then takes one step after the other, so to speak.

Markus Petz: And the further development of these values. Who is involved? Who can get involved?

Gerhard Filzwieser: Me? I would say that basically anyone can get involved. It is a kind of self-responsibility and self-organisation. Basically, it is supposed to be like a kind of living being. It should develop from the front, from within. Even though it has to be said that especially such a theme of values in a phase of really comprehensive change, where most people lack orientation, I don’t think there are many who are finding their way at the moment. So I still see myself as being very, very strongly challenged to set up this light in the figurative sense. I have to say that the values we originally set up are now several years old. It has not, it has not actually changed them in terms of correctness. That means that the feeling at that time was obviously not bad at all.

Markus Petz: Now you have also said that feeling is very important to you, that you also allow it in your work. I also read that intuition is something you promote. And that resonates with me very much, because we also have this access to bring hidden and unconscious aspects in people to unfold. And that is still a bit difficult in traditional business. Now my question: What practice have you developed to find this access to hidden and unconscious aspects?

Gerhard Filzwieser: I think, basically, this is about. If we speak from the perspective of the organisation, it’s about allowing that to happen at all. That is. That is, it is a basic prerequisite that people do not see themselves as objects, but as subjects. That I don’t always rush to judgement in the sense of right or wrong, but that I simply say: every point of view, every answer is. It is part of a larger whole, so that we also move away from the culture, from the classic error culture, in the companies. And here I say that there is actually nothing more unspeakably superior than this so-called zero error culture that we have introduced in industry. Because we believe that this will bring us to our goal. Maybe it will help us avoid one or two product defects. I’m on board with that. But it won’t open up much more important potential. But this one.  As an organisation, as I said, you can then only prepare the basis. But the willingness to admit a feeling, to express it, is something that people have to create themselves. They have to want it and create it. And I think the mind is a bit of a hindrance here. I can still remember it well. People my age will know him. There was Baldo Primel in the 70s or 80s, the national coach at that time. Exactly, the ski jumper and I was once allowed to do a week-long seminar where he was also present. And he said the sentence „Our mind is a full, fat pig“ and that has stayed in my memory because I have to say. He’s right. Our mind is fed so much every day. And that actually crowds out the feelings and the intuition. And that is the task of the individual. To go there and say: OK, I’m going to look for it.

Markus Petz: Do you also have practices like that? I know it from other companies. For example, this practice of starting every meeting with a short meditation. Or is there anything you can reveal that you cultivate in this context and promote it to make it easier for the individual?

Gerhard Filzwieser: Not in this, in this classical sense. So we, we have turned away very strongly from, I say any models and processes, because we have actually noticed that we find the best answers somewhere within ourselves.

Gerhard Filzwieser: And these are not just things that you put on top. But I simply believe. Yes, it is. It is a form of life. And not all people are the same. That’s why we said: we want to give people the possibility, the freedom, to do things in their own way. And people are very, very, very different. And that’s why we don’t really have many of those things that we somehow put over in the classical sense and say that this is now a practice that we always do.

Markus Petz: How do you see it? Do we need any safety mechanisms to prevent the company and the employees from falling back into traditional hierarchical patterns?

Gerhard Filzwieser: Yes, it’s a good one. It’s a good question.

Gerhard Filzwieser: I just don’t know if you can pin it down to mechanisms. I think we humans are basically comparatively sluggish when it comes to development. It often takes a great developmental pain for us to get moving and to change. That’s what it means. Yes, perhaps it is simply the continuous movement, the constant persistence and the constant reflection. How do we deal with each other? We try, for example.

Gerhard Filzwieser: In the hierarchy there is actually always the regulatory mechanism. That’s always the one there, the leader. And in self-organisation. That can only work if people regulate themselves, pay attention to themselves and to the others, and make themselves aware. If something is not working. And that’s something that somehow has to be kept in motion all the time. I don’t think there is this one miracle measure, but. It is a constant doing and keeping this living organism and it in motion.

Gerhard Filzwieser: But it is also sometimes very, very, very challenging.  But I also have to admit that.

Markus Petz: Well, it is incredibly exciting. I would still have so many questions that interest me insanely. At the same time, looking at the clock: maybe two more topics. You are a plastics technology company. Of course, I immediately thought of diversity, especially with regard to women, the proportion of women – how do you deal with women in technology and how do you make sure that this topic is taken into account in everyday life?

Gerhard Filzwieser: I would say so. We were already aware of this, as a very technical company, a technology-heavy company. This is often a male domain and that is probably one of the main reasons why reason and intellect dominate so much. It was somehow clear that we wanted to give more space to feelings. And then, to be honest, we have to say that women are often better at it, and that’s why we simply tried to promote this female energy and allow it more and more. Although, yes, we now have a handful of women in classic technical core tasks, but they are of course in the minority. But of course there are other tasks that need to be done, and I think we have succeeded quite well in bringing in this female energy.

Markus Petz: Well, I feel a great desire to come and visit you. Now the question is. Are there any offers in this direction? What offer, if others also want to not only look at something like this, but also feel it? Is there something you can offer?

Gerhard Filzwieser: Well, basically my attitude to this subject is already. I am convinced, deeply convinced, that we have to change a lot of things in our economy. In the question of how we treat each other, what value work will have for us. And there is certainly not just one solution and I see myself in the role of saying that if someone is interested and curious to get to know other solutions, then he or she is welcome to join us at any time. Then I am happy to share these experiences, but I also say honestly. There is nothing here where you can say that this, this works, everything, everything is perfect. So of course there are also facets that are very challenging. I would be the last person to say that this is a miracle solution. But as I said, everyone is cordially invited and I have also developed my own event format for people who want to delve deeper. I call it „Dialogue in the Studio“ and you can actually deal with these core themes that were essential for us, in the change of culture and so on. And that is the idea of doing it in small groups, where there are impulses from my side and where there is then an active confrontation with these topics. So if someone says: I’m curious, I’m interested, as I said, I’m happy to do it at any time!

Markus Petz: Maybe one final question Plastic as a material is on the one hand something really, really great, because it is extremely efficient, has a lot of positive properties and is also something valuable, but at the same time, in view of what has developed over the last few decades, it is also quite problematic. Um, if you could wish for something, now in terms of further development, what would it be?

Gerhard Filzwieser: I happened to see a very interesting documentary called „The Cycle of Life“. And basically the essence of it was that our earth does not produce any waste and it has existed for millions of years, in which everything is interconnected and that we humans in our linear economy are basically here completely again this nature, which shows how successfully it can survive for a long time and how perfectly all things are interconnected. And we humans have taken a completely different path and the impulse in this film was to say in general: Let’s also think that we don’t produce any waste and think of ways to recycle what is left at the end of a chain somewhere else in some form, just like nature does. That was of course a very radical thought. The classical cycle thinking has now begun in people’s minds. But we are only at the very, very beginning. And the idea is even more radical. Let’s look at what we consider waste today as raw material and let’s search and search for ways. And that inspired me very, very much. And that would actually be a wish, this form of circular thinking and also this awareness that everything is interconnected, because then we humans would also deal with each other differently.

Markus Petz: Yes, what a beautiful conclusion. Dear Gerhard, thank you very much for the inspiring conversation.

Gerhard Filzwieser: With pleasure.

Markus Petz: Thank you very much for listening. If you enjoyed the episode, we would be very happy if you subscribe to us via your favourite podcast app. Of course, we would be even happier if you gave us a five-star rating or recommended us to a colleague or someone in your circle of friends and family who might also be interested in this episode. This helps us continue to attract exciting guests and explore new topics around transformation, change and transformation for them. See you on the next episode. Best regards from the MetaShift team!