Cool article on Inc about a company in Iowa (that’s also 104% solar powered, as you can see above) that went to a “flat” management structure and practiced transparency. It’s a relatively small company, and I know something like that would be harder at a bigger place — see, for example, Zappos — but there’s some interesting stuff in here. For example:
The kernel of The Sky Factory’s operating system is a trifecta of principles taken from the founder’s original ambition for the company: transparency, flat management, and consensus. As an example of how the three interrelate, Witherspoon describes the weekly practice of switching facilitator roles within teams. Such rotation furthers flat management because leadership is shared. It requires transparency, because everyone needs the same information in order to take a turn. And it supports consensus, because people with identical information and authority are best positioned to reach agreement.
OK, so think about that.
If you did something as simple as switching who the meeting lead is, you can foster transparency … because for different people to lead meetings, different people need to be kept in the loop on what the key issues of a project are. In short, it becomes much harder for one person to “own a process” and instead multiple people need to own it, which can foster a culture of transparency.
It’s a simple change, but think about how powerful it could be — and think about how often some of the problems that arise do arise simply because one person has access to the most information and the most control of a specific project job. Just share it weekly. It could make a huge difference.
There’s “a rub” on all this, of course, and it’s mentioned in the same article. Notably:
Flat management has been more challenging. It is a practice that appeals powerfully to some: “We are creating an army of generals,” says Aaron Birlson, an employee in sales. But it turns others off. Employees who are personally ambitious have not lasted long at The Sky Factory. “You have to change your mindset that your goal isn’t to advance yourself through the company. It’s to advance the company. and your situation is advanced with it,” says Scott Herman, a production worker.
The “army of generals” line reeks of bullshit, admittedly — but the stuff at the end is true. To work at a place that really wants to work like this, you have to abandon your idea of personal success and replace it with group success, and then you have to trust that the group success will somehow be paid back to you. Sky Factory does that — 50 percent of net income per month back to employees, so long as three quality conditions have been met — which means an individual can trust that if he/she is doing right by the company, the company will do right by them.
That’s kind of the core issue of the last 20-30 years, though, isn’t it? We’ve embraced an individual-chases-the-dream mentality in large part because of the belief (usually correct) that employers don’t really care about individuals anymore. And that’s why throwing out words like “transparency” and “flat” and “culture of honesty” make people cringe; at a certain point, it all seems like so much BS.