From the pyramids to the plains

Photo from Michael Goodine

For 8 years I lived in a couple of pyramids.

Pyramids are imposing, majestic structures. I believe they create in us the sense that they are almost divine. They are suppose to be there. They are suppose to have that shape. They will clearly outlast us.

Next to them we are very small. We seem to be too small. Too small to have any impact in them. Too small to mean something.

Even though we somehow feel safe and at home on them.

We feel part. We are part of the pyramid. We are somehow where we should be.

Well… I’ve left the pyramids into the plains.

Photo from Vyacheslav Argenberg

A little heads-up…

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about traditional management and self-management.

The pyramids

A pyramid is an easy metaphor for traditional management. It’s so easy that before you read these next lines you already “know” what I’m going to say.

That’s exactly why I tricked you into reading those first paragraphs.

We all understand how things work in a pyramidal scheme of management. I won’t write here a master thesis on this.

If you think this a “pyramid bashing article”, it isn’t. The pyramid works. It gets things done.

This is about my experience moving to another and somehow radically different approach, that starts from a very different mindset.

So, let’s move…


The plains

When I entered the plains I’ve felt like I was in a desert.

I didn’t have any reference points and I’d never been there. What should I do? Where should I go? There weren’t really paths on the ground… (actually later I found out this was on purpose).

I didn’t exactly knew how to guide myself. There was no cozy feeling of someone taking care of me.

It strangely felt like when you become an independent adult: a scary and exciting breath of fresh air.

So what are really the plains that I’m talking about? I could describe its principles, but the ones that founded this plain wrote how they invision it here: “Why we don’t have people managing other people”, so take a dive into that link, I’ll wait for you here.

With all that information, and the experience itself, as time passed by, the most mind boggling question was: what are the real boundaries? What can I really do?

The question itself is simple, but I couldn’t wrap my mind on the answer clearly so… I asked to one of those who I knew though this through: one of the founders...


How do I know what are the limits? What can I decide, and what I can’t?

You can do everything you can take the responsibility for.

What?

Let me give you an example. You can’t hire people because legally you are not the owner of the company, and the legal responsibility of their hiring is not yours.

Ok. That is a simple example, but…

Ok, let’s make it more interesting. It’s Friday. You want to send you latest app version to production. What now?

Well normally I’d ask someone that had that authority, in this case as we use flat hierarchy, a co-founder?

What you are doing is passing the responsibility. If something goes wrong, it will be easier to point to the one that authorized you. You want to release it? Ok, do it (talk to your team before!) but since you’re doing it on a Friday… be prepared to take action if something fails during the weekend. Decisions come with responsibility.

So… if I want to move a table?

You (as everybody) can make a decision as long as they go through an “advice process”. This means seeking advice from 1) everyone who will be meaningfully affected, and 2) people with expertise in the matter. Advice received must be taken into consideration. The point is not to create a watered-down compromise that accommodates everybody’s wishes. It is about accessing collective wisdom in pursuit of a sound decision.

I have to be honest, at first I was a bit sceptic. It seemed like some utopian enterprise-communism, and I don’t really believe in communism.

I understood as time passed that this is really about people, not ideologies, whilst my understanding and love for this philosophy truly grew.

The simple yet mind blowing facts were the ones that kept striking me as awesome.

How simple? As simple as the fact that you can’t easily distinguish a founder of the company and any other employee during a normal work day.

As simple as how the company’s’ parking spaces were distributed. From my previous experiences they were distributed by status or hierarchy inside the company. So, how awesome is that the founders that could have simply take one for themselves but instead came to discussed how to distribute the parking spaces with the mindset of building a solution that could scale to everyone interested, without taking a special position for them.

There are a lot of small things on this desert, a lot generate social buzz: parties, free food, free coffee and drinks, good laptops, nice working space… but those are minor things and just natural consequences of the truly important one.

The one that is behind all others is truly an enwrapment of trust and care about each and everyone.

Well. After this journey do you know what I call this desert?

Home.