Monday, June 17, 2013

Only in America: The Boss Stops Here

Is a nonhierarchical workplace a more creative and happier one?.  New York’s  Matthew Shaer reports:   At ten in the morning on a recent Wednesday, the 50-odd employees of Menlo, most of whom are young and appealingly tousled and predisposed toward navy or forest-green hoodies, rose from their desks and formed a large circle in the middle of the room. Menlo developers practice something called “pair programming”—a technique whereby two coders work simultaneously on a single machine, with one actually manning the keyboard and the other backseat driving from an adjacent chair. The groupings typically remain intact for a few days or a week, at which point they are scuttled and reassigned, the hope being that the constant mutation in team structure will help encourage creativity and prevent frustration.

Since there are no bosses at Menlo (at least not in the traditional sense) and no middle managers (ditto), all that reassigning and fluctuation falls to the team as a whole, a process that requires a lot of air-traffic control. Every morning, the entire staff circles up to discuss strategy.

On the day I attended, the meeting moved with martial efficiency. Two by two, the pairs stepped forward and, with each employee gripping one of the horns of a fat-lady-sings-style helmet, the unofficial symbol of Menlo Innovations, they laid out their plan for the eight hours ahead…..  There was some clapping and some backslapping, of the kind you might observe at a particularly boisterous rec-league indoor soccer game, then all the employees were filing back to their desks, past a poster of Frank Zappa and a bust of Thomas Edison, the patron saint of Menlo and the guy whose famed laboratory, in Menlo Park, New Jersey, inspired this Michigan company’s name. Later, one of the quality advocates at Menlo, Joe Rock (real name), explained that the a.m. meeting helps keep morale on the team high and, more important, encourages a feeling of camaraderie—a sense that every one of the staffers is working together toward a common goal. Hence the circle, which, in a nod to King Arthur’s court, ensures that no one gets a seat at the head of the table.
….Consider, for instance, the fact that hiring at Menlo is handled by committee, with each applicant spending a little bit of time with a group of employees, until a consensus can be reached. That same collective decision-making happens during promotions, layoffs, and flat-out firings…

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