Amid reflections of the technical prowess, foresight, and innovative spirit of Valve, Michael Abrash revealed an utterly wonderful nugget of information regarding his employer in his widely circulated blog post. Remarking on the unique hierarchical structure of the company, Abrash writes:
Anyone can just up and work on whatever they think is worth doing; Steam Workshop is a recent instance of someone doing exactly that. Any employee can know almost anything about how the company works and what it’s doing; the company is transparent to its employees. Unlike many organizations, Valve doesn’t build organizational barriers to its employees by default; it just trusts them and gets out of their way so they can create value.
Without delving into an excessive amount of detail, this excerpt — particularly the concluding sentence — is deeply resonant with my sentiments regarding the working world.
Contrary to the petty, controlling interests of insignificant middle managers, individuals may thrive without constant and unpalatable attempts at guidance. Regardless of any misconceptions of managerial pedigree, the vast majority of educated individuals are cognizant of the basic building blocks of productivity.
With tatters of insignificant authority in hand, managerial staff frequently embrace delusions of grandeur, thus sabotaging the work occurring beneath them. Narcissistic efforts to control, impress, and progress act solely as stifling agents of innovation and careful work.
I do not mean to suggest that leadership is unnecessary, rather, I simply seek to highlight the problems engendered by organizational barriers and the egos therein. Such barriers, in many instances, are indicative of, and directly correlated with, the narcissistic personalities upon which they are built. People progress, gain status, and wish to selfishly emphasize their separate significance from their perceived competitors.
Regardless of whatever culture may be projected upon an organization, such barriers are inherently poisonous and effective for only the most blind of employee. Those who truly seek to thrive, succeed, and aid in the creation of value, will find far greater success in an environment unencumbered by the various bounds of self-conscious inadequacies boasted by their purported leaders.
In the environment articulated by Abrash, all people are leaders, all people thrive upon the efforts of others, and all people are given an equal opportunity to impress and rise within.
Personality conflicts are relatively unavoidable in life but, in a working environment, such divisions are often distinctly magnified. Despite being charged with managing people, the vast majority of leaders are interested only in their self-image. Thus, with exacerbated personal differences, competitive and anti-social progressions transparently at the forefront of the minds of leaders, and barriers in place to stifle broad collaboration and valuable input, a recipe for deep-seated division is firmly supplanted into a purported team.
Hierarchy is, indeed, a cornerstone of the working world. That is not to say, however, that it need be the guiding force for work and productivity. Emphasize trust, allow people to work to their strengths, and embrace the innovations and intelligence of subordinates. In doing so, a leader will generate respect and, evidently contrary to popular belief, firmly instantiate their position as leader.
Abrash’s post is riddled with unique points of interest but, most of all, I recommend reading the portion entitled, “Valve is different.”