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Self-organisation: A Company Managed by a Document

What happens if a company is self-managed, meaning it has no clear, pyramid-shaped hierarchy of command and control? The Seattle-based, 300+ employee game developer Valve is a great example – if we are to exaggerate a bit, they are run by a document.

We’ve heard that other companies have people allocate a percentage of their time to self-directed projects. At Valve, that percentage is 100.
(Valve Handbook for New Employees)

This is not just a company happening to be like that because that’s how it happened, but the founders have made a lot of experience in large and small IT companies, and have concluded that since the market is moving so fast, their organization needs to focus on innovation, speed, and flexibility. Amongst today’s many voices on self-organisation taking on a moral tone and going along the lines of “I’m not happy with the kind of management I have to work for, therefore management is bad”, it is refreshing how utterly pragmatic Valve’s approach is. It is also not the application of a boxed set of tools, but a design by Valve, for Valve. And that’s how it should be.

It’s worth checking out the implications on self control functions they have thought about. If every employee has comparatively huge freedom of decision  (and responsibilities!), it is essential to have a very thorough recruiting process. If everyone can decide on which project they want to work, they must be careful not to start a fierce and continuous competition amongst projects for the best people. They have also created two peer feedback processes which have a large impact on people’s development and (is this old-school?) salary.

Here’s a Valve employee’s blogpost which describes the experience of working at Valve in the context of the IT developers industry.

If you want to have a look at the real thing: Valve Employee Handbook

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