visualizing org structure (or lack thereof)

The new employee handbook from Valve, a gaming company in Bellevue, Washington, has been making the rounds through the HR circle in which I work. It's an amusing read (complete with comics), meant to help new hires understand how to make their place in a company that's trying very hard not to be a company.

They use the following image to help demonstrate the organizational structure:

It is explained with the following text:

Hierarchy is great for maintaining predictability and repeatability. It simplifies planning and makes it easier to control a large group of people from the top down, which is why military organizations rely on it so heavily.

But when you’re an entertainment company that’s spent the last decade going out of its way to recruit the most intelligent, innovative, talented people on Earth, telling them to sit at a desk and do what they’re told obliterates 99 percent of their value. We want innovators, and that means maintaining an environment where they’ll flourish.

That’s why Valve is flat. It’s our shorthand way of saying that we don’t have any management, and nobody “reports to” anybody else. We do have a founder/president, but even he isn’t your manager. This company is yours to steer—toward opportunities and away from risks. You have the power to green-light projects. You have the power to ship products.

Personally, I look at the visuals and accompanying text with a mix of fascination and fear. Given my affinity for structure, this sounds a bit like anarchy to me. It's also unclear to me how this would scale: it may work for a start-up, but will it be possible to maintain as the company grows? In any case, I do think the visuals do a good job supporting the text (and vice versa). I'll leave it at that.

If you're interested in checking out the handbook, you can find it here.



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