University supercells – the future of academic work?


Down with bureaucracy! – Ilkka Paananen, Supercell

This is one of the defining factors of Supercell’s culture. Work is done in small autonomous teams comprising five to six employees so the organisation roughly looks like this:

supercell

Looks pretty cool, right? And effective. Plus after talking to some people from the company I got the feeling that the organisational frameworks and structures actually exist in order to support employees’ creativity, not kill it.

Now let’s see how the organisational structure of a generic university looks like:

university

 

I might be exaggerating slightly in the illustration above, but the differences between a university and Supercell are nonetheless remarkable.

It seems many people are thinking about the future of universities nowadays, and there’s a good reason for it! I feel that universities have not been renewed as fast as they should have been and there are at least two major obstacles preventing that from happening: publishing industry and insane hierarchies within universities.

Aslihan Agaoglu recently wrote about the PhD process as being a solitary journey and I agree with her. Most of the times this works, but at the same time it also means that hierarchies and bureaucracy can be increased at will as people mostly work alone. What if new PhD students were taught to work in teams during their PhD journey?

Here’s my initial contribution to the different universities out there: when you hire new PhD students, form cells (remember the Supercell example above?) and give each cell a common budget for travelling, materials, etc. Please note that the people working in a cell are still working on their individual PhDs, but this would give them a sense of collegiality and an ability to work in a team later on in their (academic) career.

(this post was just some random initial thoughts on this topic. I believe in the idea, and as such I invite you to join the discussion either below in the comments or elsewhere 🙂 )

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