How often do we critically evaluate how effective our business structure is? In corporate America or a large government organization each employee has a large depth of managers that evaluate their performance, and isolates them from customers or end users. This centralized, managerial business structure, which has evolved is a top-down authority driven system. Much of the beauracracy has been put in place to protect the parent organization from legal costs. Although this model has worked for better or worse for the 20th century, it is long outdated. As a society we're finally realizing* that commoditizing human effort within companies is detrimental to the individual and the organization. The evidence is the tremendous debt, fading dollar value, and rising unemployment rates common throughout the US.
Without question the true strength of humanity is evident in our intelligence, passion, and will. When these attributes are cultivated, extraordinary prosperity is not only likely, but inevitable. In flat organizations, where people are free to self organize around challenges that draw their enthusiasm, the walls to productivity are shattered.
My goal in describing the following model is to have a public record of my ideas so that others can use, alter, and adapt them to suit their needs. And just as importantly, to modify the structure's weaknesses through feedback.
A Sample Business Model
I expect that you're thinking something along these lines: "that's great Mark, but who directs the business in this utopian structure?"
Leadership begins with the first mover. A concept is developed by one or a few people. As a project develops active leadership is earned by the one with the greatest passion and vision for it's future success. Spin off projects can be forked just as easily as open source work. A project's task, it's membership and it's leadership attracts others to contribute, transferring from an abstract phase to a more concrete development. Not everyone is ready to lead. Poor leaders will have no unwilling team members to micromanage or torment. How many folks would willingly choose to work for an emotional wreck, or should be forced to?
There's no defacto chief for all projects. This is where we must separate the investors of a business from leadership. Shared ownership is a feature of any enlightened company (see ESOP and vesting). Coworkers, colleagues, and customers can all have a say on who they want to see in charge by freely choosing which project/products to support. This dynamic leadership structure may not be the right place to work for all individuals and it has to be executed quickly and periodically. Never let your business stagnate. The ideal is controlled chaos for this model.
Everyone's a Leader and "Owns" Something
Authority for specific subtasks is delegated to, and/or earned by those that have contributed the most in a particular field, and desire the responsibility. In a small subunit it's fine not to be the lead, as you may belong to several. But your feedback is just as important as any other team members. There will be specific responsibilities to which each team member is the final and trusted authority. It's important to the success of the subunit, and overall project that these topic champions are known throughout the company and available to share their expertise.
For a flat organization of any size the communication structure must be transparent and allow easy search and access to colleagues. Although the model I'm describing has leaders and smaller units, the shifting per project nature of the heirarchy reveals it's equality. Everyone has a chance to lead, contribute, and own their work. Instead of thinking in terms of authority levels, colleague can think in terms of subject experts. Who can best help your team overcome a particular challenge?
Earned wealth is a combination of project ownership, business ownership, and cash. It's distributed based on the success of the project, peer judgement inside the project, and customer feedback. Being popular is good, but having the ladies and gents on the inside of a successful project team's respect is much better.
R&D efforts are coordinated by team leaders who have the ability to pitch working prototypes and measurable performance. Traction is something I consistently seek while searching and developing tools at Victus Media. I define traction when a user says, "this feature is awesome!", then returns to goad us into improving it.
Larger research budgets can afford longer incubation periods, which require more upfront review and ongoing status updates. Lengthy research projects should periodically return to the question: How have assumptions and the market shifted since the research began? Ideally your organization's R&D team will already have proven themselves with successful products and services to mitigate risk and leverage their experience.
* the economic downturn has caught the attention of the public. Too many are jobless with little hope of landing equivalent pay in their old fields.