The Self-Governing Office

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.

Consider next the charts in the corner of the office, which display the names and titles of the Menlo employees and also their corresponding pay grades. When I first saw them, I was standing in the midst of a scrum of Menlonians, and I suggested—thus belying my own, frankly square work experience—that it might be a little unnerving to have your salary exposed to your colleagues. And the guy standing to my right actually scoffed. “No,” he said. “It’s the opposite. It’s liberating.”

In this week’s New York magazine, Matthew Shaer examines workplaces that use “horizontal management” rather than hierarchical management—which basically means that things are run without traditional bosses and more like King Arthur’s round table where no one is seated at the head, and everyone sort of self-governs themselves. Shaer visits the headquarters of Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, Mich. where programmers work in pairs, hiring and firing decisions are made by the team as a whole, and in a relatively new development, employee titles and pay grades are displayed openly on a wall. The employee-retention rate at Menlo is high and everyone feels a sense of ownership. It’s not perfect, but it’s working.

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8 Comments / Post A Comment

“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.”

This sounds like just about the best recipe for workplace mass-murder I can imagine.

sony_b (#225)

@stuffisthings It definitely doesn’t work for a good number of people, but a lot of people LOVE it. You take turns “driving” and a lot of the really time consuming, typo based bugs magically disappear. Good pairs can push out quadruple the work with fewer bugs. It’s a great way to mentor too.

@sony_b I could see how some kind of cooperation would be helpful but actually having someone looming over my shoulder makes it hard for me to even read an article, let alone write, let alone write code. Even when I’m just trying to show people how to do something I always make way more dumb mistakes, too.

questingbeast (#2,409)

‘things are run without traditional bosses and more like King Arthur’s round table’
And as we all know, that worked out really well for everyone concerned…

Slutface (#53)

No thanks. There are quite a few cliques where I work and it would only turn into a popularity contest.

@Slutface Yeah I’d also love to see a demographic breakdown of Menlo — I suspect a lot of young white and Asian dudes, and a few white ladies doing admin work.

helloginny (#3,801)

I work for the state government, so my salary isn’t posted on a wall anywhere in the office but it is easily findable through many different government salary databases online. It’s kind of liberating because people can talk more openly about what they get paid because it’s all out there anyway, and it gives you a better idea of what is a competitive wage and what’s not, which can help when you’re negotiating a raise (not that there are many in state government these days).

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

Some of the specifics are worrying, but overall it’s interesting to see more companies experimenting with progressive office culture. Speaking as someone who works in a very rigid and traditional office environment I definitely see the appeal of a more open horizontal structure. It actually sounds more appealing to me than all the crazy Googley perks and amenities that some companies are offering Specifics like tandem coding and team based firings aside I think it would be interesting to work in an office where the group is not at the mercy of managerial fiat.

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