As founder of Axosoft, one of my goals is to build the type of company that I would love to work at, even if I wasn’t the founder. From the start, I wanted to make sure we have rockstar managers running every department. And we did. For a few years, Axosoft was run by me and several managers, but as the company has continued to grow, I started questioning the value of management (and even me).
I started realizing that when managers fulfill their roles to the natural conclusion, all they would be doing is helping set direction, make calls on the big decisions and doing employee reviews. This is all really important stuff that needs to be done, but what I am increasingly unconvinced about is that managers don’t seem to have any special super magical skills to make them really good at these tasks. On average, managers are equally as smart as any other employee in the organization, but because of their roles, they feel obligated to make the tough calls themselves, sometimes going against the wisdom of their teams or in some cases not even consulting with their teams.
It seems to me that there is an opportunity for companies to eliminate the typical manager roles in favor of agile, self-organizing teams with a flat hierarchy. Of course, this is nothing new. This is how agile software development is done. Yet in most software companies, even those that practice agile development, you still find managers – not managers of products, but managers of people. Managers that have “direct reports.” Why? Because that’s the way it’s done.
Well, not at Axosoft. At least not for the past few years. We have been building a company with a flat hierarchy. One that is doing away with managers. Let me tell you, it’s not easy. There are a lot of challenges to address and there aren’t a lot of case studies that we can turn to for answers. Much of the information that exists on flat orgs is not useful. This is a lot of uncharted territory for us.
Yesterday, we had an all-hands meeting to discuss some of the challenges and questions that come up. I thought the following video might be helpful to others who might also be trying to build a flat company.