Moving Beyond Hierarchy: How Celestica Empowers Employees in Small Teams

The way humans come together to do work is changing. Technology has made us more interconnected than ever before. Rapid communication and advanced data analysis enable us to gather and perform work together in new ways. This enhanced and expected connectivity has infiltrated all aspects of our lives – the organization is no different.

Our latest Outthinker research shows that in this new world, small, decentralized teams are essential to achieve the speed and agility necessary for innovation in a large company. A study of over 500 mid-level managers revealed that firms organized into small, independent teams are 1.5X more likely to unleash entrepreneurial behavior, 1.3X more likely to achieve better financial performance, and 1.2X more likely to recruit and retain top talent.

Small, empowered teams can make decisions quickly. They can identify and respond to customer needs from the front lines. And they can iterate continuously to act and adapt to keep up with the pace of change.

Let’s take a look at how one company is breaking down organizational barriers to proactively respond to customer needs.

Celestica breaks down organizational barriers

Celestica, a Toronto-based technology design, manufacturing, and service company with 28,000 employees, has developed a management model that leverages small teams to empower employees and accelerate innovation. This year, the company was awarded a Zero Distance Award from the Business Ecosystem Alliance for its work in eliminating the distance and barriers between employees, operations, and customers.

We spoke to Alok Agrawal, Celestica’s chief strategy officer and an Outthinker Strategy Network member, about what it really looks like to operate outside of strict organizational hierarchies. He broke the company’s principles down into a few core elements:

  • Small, autonomous teams: Celestica maintains a small executive leadership team of seven people. This helps keep processes, communication, and alignment simple and direct. This organizational design choice continues throughout the organization. Small teams have autonomy to identify new user needs and try out solutions directly with customers, pivoting quickly based on feedback. This startup-like environment helps them keep pace with rapidly evolving trends and customer preferences.
  • Accountability and empowerment: Every Celestica customer has an empowered “CEO” of their account as their main point of contact. This single leader has full authority to do whatever is necessary to address the customer’s need. This end-to-end model promotes extreme responsiveness and accountability.
  • An ecosystem approach: Part of Celestica’s strategy is working with early-stage companies that are not yet fully mature. When its teams identify a new end user need, Celestica looks for leading-edge companies that are already meeting that need and aims to partner with them.

By combining small, agile teams with customer-centric accountability, Celestica unleashes entrepreneurial levels of innovation across a 28,000-person organization. Their management model offers lessons for leaders striving to build adaptable, empowered cultures focused on continuously improving the customer experience.

Want to learn to implement these and similar intrapreneurship strategies?

Join our Unleashing Intrapreneurship masterclass introduction on October 26 to discover:

  • What other organizations like Celestica are doing to activate higher levels of intrapreneurship
  • More organizational design choices besides small teams that support agile, entrepreneurial organizations at scale
  • Data and research to convince top leadership to consider an alternative approach to traditional hierarchy
  • More approaches to unlock innovation, no matter your company’s size


Don’t let organizational barriers smother innovation in your organization. Join us to learn to build a culture of empowerment, like Celestica.

Photo by Brett Sayles