A Journey Towards Self-Organization

with the Semco Style Expert Certification Program

An interview with Jean-Claude Pierre and Barbara Atlas from France


The purpose of our Semco Style Expert Certification Program is to equip new pioneers-to-be with all the relevant Semco Style content while also immersing them into our philosophy. The idea is to not just enable them to work on Semco Style-related assignments and pivot organizational structures but to also explore if there’s potential for establishing a Country Partnership in the future.

On that note, we bring you this interview with Barbara Atlas and Jean-Claude Pierre, who completed the Expert Certification Program in February 2021. The interview will shine the spotlight on the great learning journey they undertook over four months and do a deep dive into their personal experiences on the certification program.

Based out of France, Barbara has more than 20 years of experience in the financial sector before shifting her focus to consulting specialized in human capital, back in 2016. Her goal was to help build companies with a more participative way of working, by stimulating collective intelligence and giving people the best chance to succeed. With her participation in the Semco Style Expert Certification program, she hopes to gain an innovative approach to better respond to her goal.

Also based out of France, Jean-Claude has been a true cosmopolitan, whose entrepreneurial spirit guided him through many countries across the globe. Currently he is actively involved as a venture partner at a Chinese venture capital firm. With his participation in the Semco Style Expert Certification program, Jean-Claude aims to equip himself with the tools to unleash the great reservoir of talent hidden in many organizations.

Now that they’re certified Semco Style Experts, we asked them to reflect on their journey. Get ready for some honest insights into what they’ve learned about Semco Style, organizational transformations and, most importantly, about themselves.


When did you hear about Semco Style for the first time?

While Barbara recently got to know Semco Style by reputation, Jean-Claude got in touch with it more than 11 years ago when he was running a business in China. He met a business consultant who had strong relations with Ricardo Semler. During their conversation, they talked about Ricardo Semler and his pioneering approach in Brazil. Jean-Claude followed-up on that story but made the connection to Semco Style Institute at a later point when he heard about the Expert Program and started some research himself.


At what point did you decide to start the Expert Program?

In Jean-Claude’s belief, people have way more potential than they show or use – and sometimes their professional context does not allow them to express this potential. “The conditions in many organizations are structured in such a manner that deprive people from reaching their full potential. This frustrates the individual, as well as the enterprise, since many benefits of human potential are untapped.” Besides that, Jean-Claude was, and still is, interested in Ricardo’s methodology, which motivated him to implement it in his own organization as well as other organizations.

While Barbara was looking for a method and a training proposition that really gravitated towards her views, she came across Semco Style. She was looking for more than just a learning journey: “I want to support organizations in making bottom-up decisions, in creating more agility and in boosting real empowerment at the team level as well as the company level.” To realize this goal, Barbara began searching for real methods and practices that offer her effective tools to use during the transformation process.


“The concrete applicability of the practices was often a great fit for the needs of our companies as well as our clients.”


What convinced you that the Semco Style philosophy was what you were looking for?

Both Barbara and Jean-Claude were searching for a certain toolbox that would help them move their organization towards greater autonomy. Besides gaining access to the right tools and methodology, they wished to join a network of like-minded people to learn from and consistently exchange knowledge and experiences with. The practical approach of Ricardo Semler’s methodology played a decisive role: “Semco Style is a methodology filled with practices that come from real life – examples that are built upon the authentic and proven experience of Ricardo Semler,” says Jean-Claude. As an approach that emerged from the bottom-up, with concrete learnings and steps that guide a transformative process, Semco Style was a clear fit.


At the end of the Expert Certification Program, did you feel like you got what you came looking for?

At this point, Barbara and Jean-Claude both agree that during the Expert Program they really went way beyond theory. “The hands-on practices and tools we’ve learned really helped us develop a pragmatic approach. The concrete applicability of the practices was often a great fit for the needs of our companies as well as our clients’,” says Jean-Claude.

“Going through the Expert program really helped us to get an idea of what it is like to start from scratch, because we had to learn how to organize ourselves as a group in the program. You are put in a situation where you must take concrete steps if you want to get the most out of the certification program. It’s very unusual and uncomfortable. But focusing on learning and using the tools helped us to move forward. And because you have experienced the path deeply yourself, now, as consultants, you can be sure that you would know what to do in a given situation,” says Barbara. The role plays carried out during the program helped them to consolidate their role as consultants/coaches to support their clients and translate the response to their needs into concrete actions.

“When I first met the other participants in the program, I felt as insecure as any other beginner. At that time, I was not aware of the tools that could help me to instil confidence or interest in an autonomous team context. This is a difficult starting point when it comes to working on trust and alignment of interests, especially across cultures and only in a virtual team due to Covid. How do you work on trust with people you know so little about? How do you get them to trust you and how do you find the alignment? It’s a real challenge, for the team and for the consultant. It took us a while to understand”, say Jean-Claude and Barbara. As participants, all you can do is make a start and not worry about where you are in the process. Instead, focus on engaging with your team members and learning to leverage their strengths.


So, how important is it to go through this journey as a team as well as an individual?

“Each member of the team makes his or her own contribution to the group and plays a specific role in the group. The diversity of contributions and roles is the strength of the group. It is therefore important to value each individuality and to have a group aligned on the same goal,” explains Barbara.


Were there any eye-opening experiences during the Expert program for you?

“When it comes to self-management, everyone has a different level of maturity. Some people feel more comfortable than others and some people find reflection challenging. We found that one-on-one reflection was helping us stimulate individual adaptation to a changing approach. It allowed us to hear the challenges others were facing and use what we learned to accelerate the impact in our own organization. On the other hand, sharing our challenges made us feel comfortable, which allowed us to then cultivate a better sense of ownership while dealing with these challenges.” reflects Jean-Claude.


“When it comes to self-management, everyone has a different level of maturity and some people feel more comfortable than others.”


And how did you manage to create alignment within the team?

Jean-Claude explains that it took lots of retrospectives, going back and forth and a lot of introspection to find a way together. “As we started working with the team to create alignment, we struggled with reflecting upon how our work – as a team – could be more efficient. Also, we were not able to evaluate whether we had reached our goals or not. We never thought that reflecting on something would be so difficult, but we eventually realized that we were all simply not used to working together,” he says.

It is difficult to change your mindset and start thinking differently without support. Imagine, for example, that you are used to working in a fully operational way and suddenly you are asked to solve problems retrospectively. That’s when you need to step back and start thinking about what you need to do when your work environment suddenly changes and requires you to do completely new things. And, without the right knowledge or tools, it can be quite overwhelming,” adds Barbara.


How difficult was it for you to make the transition during the program as well as when you first began implementing Semco Style in the real world?

“Even though we were experienced consultants, and eager to learn and to implement, we eventually got stuck. I think that’s the beauty of the program, it puts you in this position and truly challenges you. You might think it would be easy if you are experienced and willing to learn, but then, you will quickly realize that you’ve underestimated what it takes to create a self-managed environment, even more so with people with very different experiences. It can be frustrating,” says Jean-Claude.

Both emphasize that the diversity of the group reflects the challenges involved in a real-life organization that is trying to change. It shows the dynamics that must be taken into consideration when making decisions and while dealing with different contexts in an increasingly globalized world. Both reflect on the creation of ‘macro boundaries’ in the team, and afterwards during the implementation phase, which are vital to smoothen the process. Once these are in place, things become clearer and the steps that must be taken to implement a new project according to self-managed principles arise.


“I think that’s the beauty of the program, it puts you in this position and truly challenges you.”


What is the next goal for your organization when it comes to being self-managed/self-directed?

“The goal is to use this pilot as an experiment that we hope to roll out in the whole organization. We’re also aiming to lead by example, with brave leadership, within the pilot experiment. We see the benefits of working this way and we want to accelerate it into a larger part of the organization”, says Barbara as she shares her aspirations for the future.

Barbara ends the interview with a final takeaway: “For us, the main takeaway from the Expert Program is the creation of fertile ground – for example, by creating boundaries. It’s highly important when it comes to leading a team in the right direction. Besides that, one also needs to find the right balance of being directive, as it is often seen as the last top-down decision after the decision to go down the self-managed route.”


We would like to thank Barbara and Jean-Claude for sharing their honest and personal experiences and learnings during the Expert Program. And we are happy for them to be part of our global community of certified experts! We wish them all the best with their transformation project! Would you like to become a certified Semco Style Expert yourself?


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