Self-managing teams in Nijkerk municipality

Organisational development in a municipality within a framework set by the municipal council is not new. However, a local authority can still be innovative in how it designs such development and the role employees play in it. In Nijkerk (approx. 43,000 inhabitants), this has led to an organisation made up of 28 self-managing teams that come directly under the authority of the municipal clerk. Nijkerk went through a process where employees and the development of their talent came first.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

The target for the organisational development was to balance the budget and create different ways to engage and collaborate with the local community. In doing so, an explicit choice was made to have the municipal council, municipal executive, and organisation work together and take the expertise and professionalism of employees as the starting point. The underlying idea was that employees are the ones who can actually shape the change in their day-to-day practices.

This is the story of a financially sound organisation that rethinks the way it interacts with society, enabled by professional and motivated employees who work in self-managing teams.

At the start of the process, a group of employees organised a kick-off event for the entire civil service organisation, including the municipal council and executive. This event produced a large number of initiatives that were subsequently set in motion. One of these employee initiatives was to set up a bulletin board for pending jobs, allowing employees to claim certain jobs whenever they have managed to free up some of their time as they organised their work differently, or where they can post tasks whenever they need help. 50 percent of employees subsequently started doing tasks posted on this bulletin board.

Given the fact that most change processes come to nothing, the local authority made a conscious choice to deploy two success factors in its development-based process. They wanted to make the most of employees’ commitment and first implement behavior change before formalizing the new structure. This meant stimulating the development by actually making time and creating scope for developments, different working methods, and ways of working together initiated by employees, and only then making these changes permanent. This allowed the organisation to try out new ideas quickly, making adjustments based on initial experiences and finally anchoring them in the organisation. This also went for the HRM aspects of the change: employees were, while respecting their legal position, given the opportunity to take on other tasks, gain experience, and make choices on their future career path prior to formalisation of the change.

During the process, the idea of putting employees' center stage was also adopted by the managers who decided to resign from their posts because they supported the development towards self-managing teams. The whole change also had consequences for the municipal council and the municipal executive, making it a major step for everyone involved. This did not stand in the way of consistent implementation, which was ensured by various elements. The council and executive were part of the support group, and directly and permanently involved in the change process.

The innovation strategy is not an innovation for the sake of innovation for which specific resources are used, but rather a strengthening of collaboration with society by giving professionals across the organisation space to strike closer community ties. The innovation is, therefore, not a goal or core value within the municipal culture, but a means to realise the change objectives.

Innovation Description

Innovation Development

Innovation Reflections

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Year: 2015
Level of government: Local government


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