The Decentralized Org Structure
By Sean Taheri, Product Marketing Intern at ConsenSys.
In my first month as an intern at ConsenSys, it has become clear to me that the structure of the company closely resembles that of a blockchain system, which is coincidental because that’s what we’re all working so hard to build and grow here. The founder and CEO of ConsenSys, Joseph Lubin, had the idea of building a company structured as a decentralized holacracy, similar to blockchain technology. This idea works so well because the company started out with a flat organizational structure at its inception. Even though it’s been difficult to maintain the essence of decentralization, the company has been able to scale and expand to new regions all over the world.
Maintaining the essence of decentralization has actually been one of the most difficult obstacles for ConsenSys. Most people are used to a common organizational structure in which work is laid out for them and later has to be approved by someone with a higher ranking. The obstacle here is shifting the behavioral mindset of employees in the same way that blockchain technology requires a behavioral shift in society. In order to accept this behavioral shift, we have to change the way we think about others and adopt the idea of radical trust. It is necessary for people to trust the technology while working within a blockchain-based system because they are sharing important information that could be personal or confidential with people they don’t know and will probably never meet. The behavioral shift here is the acceptance of sharing data in a trustless environment, which means that you don’t necessarily trust the other parties involved, but you trust the underlying technology to protect your information. Along the same lines, it is equally important to trust your coworkers because you are all working toward the same goal of scaling your business and increasing profits through the efficiency and effectiveness of your business. ConsenSys’ ability to maintain the essence of decentralization serves as a microcosm of what it can be like for industries, communities, countries, and the world if they shift their fundamental behavior in response to blockchain technology.
The flat structure of ConsenSys encompasses the fact that every employee is seen as equal, so there is no hierarchy of authority. Instead of your boss assigning work to you, ConsenSys employees are encouraged to choose and/or initiate what they want to work on based on their skill set and where they can add the most value. If an employee has an idea for a project of their own, they are more than welcome to carry it out, but they will also be responsible for building a team to support them, for securing the funds necessary for the job, and seeing the project through.
The ConsenSys “mesh” is a buzzword we use that basically translates to the network of employees working within the company. This term is frequently used throughout the company and was coined because of the way that different aspects of the business represent the mesh of nodes that work together in a blockchain. ConsenSys stresses the idea of decentralization in the workplace, which can only work if there are several circles of the business working together towards a common goal. Mesh members understand this and are able to work together with different circles without one team feeling more authoritative than another. Since this is a widely accepted notion across the mesh, excellent content is produced every day because everyone is in sync and trusting of one another.
Feedback is extremely encouraged around here as well, because we want the work we produce to be seen as coming from ConsenSys as a whole, rather than from an individual person or team. Everyone sends out rough drafts of reports and presentations that they are working on in order to get feedback from their colleagues before finalizing their work. This idea of feedback also mirrors the organization of a blockchain because mesh members from any circle can edit, make suggestions, and approve what is being produced so the content is truly coming from the company as a whole. This is important because there are so many brilliant minds and different perspectives across the mesh that could add value to any piece of content.
I joined this company as an intern with very little office work experience, so I didn’t know what to expect as far as workload, how I would be treated as an intern, how I would be educated about the business model, or what it would be like to work without someone telling me what to do every day. However, the experience I’ve had here has been amazing so far. Even though members of my Product Marketing team are based out of different cities around the world, we are able to meet via Zoom video conference to discuss what work needs to get done and who will be in charge of working on each project. The global nature of ConsenSys is actually one of the most intriguing and interesting aspects of the business, as well as one of the closest ways the company organization resembles blockchain technology. Just like the way you can make transactions with anyone around the world through blockchain without a central authority, at ConsenSys you get to work with people from all over the world, which creates opportunities to enter different markets in just about every continent. Building teams consisting of employees from different parts of the world is also advantageous because each person represents a region with a different perspective from which they can gain and distribute information that is relevant to their team. Since no one has an ego or feels like they contribute more or less than someone else, a positive working environment is created for everyone to bounce ideas off of each other without feeling self-conscious. In fact, “stupid questions” are actually encouraged to make sure that everyone stays on the same page at all times.
In my short month here, I have yet to see any disagreements or confrontations that haven’t been resolved in a civil manner and through consensus. When someone has an idea about a project, they simply explain it to their team and then the team has a discussion about it. If there isn’t a general consensus about a decision, the team will then vote on the issue to decide whether or not to follow through with it. This decision making process is similar to how a blockchain works in that a transaction is proposed by a single entity but it can’t be accepted unless each party agrees to it. Since any individual, party, or entity can submit information onto a blockchain, it is necessary for the other parties involved to evaluate and agree upon what is about to be permanently embedded into the blockchain. Because we can’t be sure about the proposed author’s credibility, it is essential that all new information is reviewed and agreed upon by all parties before it can be accepted. As opposed to the leader of a team making an executive decision about a project or the central authority approving a global transaction, ConsenSys and blockchain both work towards the concept of consensus in that everyone gets a chance to consider and approve an idea or transaction together before it is executed.
The principle of blockchain emphasizes the elimination of any central authority that is involved in a transaction being made. In a similar way, central authority is unnecessary at ConsenSys because everyone is internally motivated by their passion for blockchain technology. Teams are able to hold each other accountable for getting work done by creating objectives and key results (OKRs) and making them public in order to ensure transparency and accountability across the mesh. People get to focus their energy on projects they’re most passionate about and can pick different projects or switch teams if they make a strong case for doing so. This arguably gets the best work out of different individuals with different passions, skill-sets, and goals.
I’ve learned that you have to communicate often and well to thrive here, while also navigating many unique types of personalities in order to produce the best content and ultimately be successful. Since the entire mesh is spread across the world, you get to connect with all kinds of people with different skill sets and backgrounds who can give you advice from new and interesting perspectives. In my experience, everyone I’ve connected with so far has been incredibly friendly and eager to help with whatever I need. The most intriguing aspect of the working environment here is the mutual respect and trust across the mesh that translates to top-notch work being produced. This is one of the main reasons why I believe ConsenSys is the next big company that will change the world for the better.
Sean is an undergraduate at Chico State University majoring in Marketing and pursuing a professional certificate in Sales. Sean spent the summer working as an intern with the Product Marketing team at ConsenSys to support the Solutions team with collateral and to further spread the word about blockchain and Ethereum.