All of us at some point in our careers may have worked for a boss. There is comfort in the arrangement: someone tells us what to do, and we do it. But sometimes, too many bosses may be an obstacle and not a boon.
Nowadays, more companies are veering away from that old, hierarchical management style of running a business. Self-management amongst employees is encouraged as it is seen as being more innovative and creative. Responsibility and awards are shared.
So is it possible to have a bossless office? A non-hierarchical workplace may seem unthinkable, but a company in Ann Arbor, Michigan has done just that.
Menlo Innovations’ space is airy and bright and capacious, like any other successful software company. There are no cubicles and the 50-odd employees, most of whom are young Menlo developers, practice something called “pair programming”—a technique whereby two coders work simultaneously on a single machine, then the teams change groupings.
Since there are no bosses at Menlo—at least not in the traditional sense—and no middle managers, all that reassigning and fluctuation falls to the team as a whole. Also, everything is open and transparent and flat. Hiring at Menlo is handled by committee. That same collective decision-making happens during promotions, layoffs, and flat-out firings.
Rich Sheridan, the co-founder and CEO of Menlo Innovations, had this story to share: In 1997, his then-8-year-old daughter, Sarah, spent a day at work. When asked what she had learnt, she replied, “Well, Daddy, I learned that you’re really important…All day long people came in here and asked you to make a decision for them. And you made a decision, and they went on their way.”
This was Sheridan’s ‘Ah-Ha’ moment. “I realized that the organization couldn’t move any faster than me,” he said. “That I was the bottleneck.” It was this moment that inspired Menlo’s current ‘management’ style.
The fascinating article is peppered throughout with examples of other companies who have successfully experimented with non-hierarchical workplaces.
VIDEO – Check out what Rich Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations, has to say about his company’s non-hierarchical structure.