How We Used the Flat Management Method to Make Our Startup a Company Worth Millions
The first lesson that I had in “flat management” was at home, when I was a child. My amazing teacher was my dad, who was an educator with a very unique way of thinking. My dad never believed in strict boundaries. He never got angry or made me feel guilty about making mistakes. In fact, even when I was young, he gave me the freedom to make many of my own decisions. The funny thing is that for a long time, I walked around with this feeling that I was someone special.
It was only later that I figured out that this feeling of mine had absolutely nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with my old man. Indeed, my dad cracked the code to an approach that other people also figured out, but not until many years later. He knew that the fewer rules he gave, the more I used my own common sense and intuition. The fewer boundaries he established, the greater responsibility I took. And the more he allowed me to make mistakes, the more I learned.
When I became an adult, I began to understand how remarkably simple and effective his formula was. But would this simple lesson apply outside of the home? As I ventured out into the world, this was put to the test. Thankfully, at the beginning of my professional career, I happened to work with managers who gave me a large degree of freedom of activity and flexibility. Over the years, through my own work and careful observation as a manager, I further developed my own philosophy.
Mind the Gap
My basic working assumptions involve implementing a management structure that is both flat & lean. This means that we shrink the gap between the strategic, tactical, and operational layers in an organization. We reduce them to the bare minimum. The direct result is that our team members are not just following directions and executing instructions. They are directly involved in planning, having an impact, and making crucial changes. The trust and connection that develops among people where there is no hierarchy is fertile ground for infinite innovation. It’s the “glue” that holds a company together. But what does this mean in practical terms?
What are the 3 questions we should be asking?
- When we get down to it, how do we encourage staff to feel a sense of responsibility and be proactive?
- How do we empower them to become full partners in the business process?
- What is the best way to connect them to the vision and the values and get better business results?
Here are 5 practical tools we use at Intango to make our company hum:
#1: Don’t Order. Ask.
We aim to bring everyone in the company into the open spaces of creativity, flexibility, and freedom of activity. Why? So the team can keep up with the changes taking place in the industry without missing a step. My suggestion is: communicate with other members of your team without imposing instructions on them that come “from above.”
The best way to do this is usually by asking questions and sharing information about the company’s strategy and general goals of the organization. Ask the questions that you ask yourself. Focus on the kinds of questions leading to answers that contribute to an understanding of the business and the technological directions of the market. Adopt this method. I guarantee you will be amazed with the results.
The “Backyard Brainstorm”
About two years ago our company, Intango, was at a crossroads. in order to take the company to the next level, we needed to make decisions regarding the company’s areas of activity. We had to decide whether to deepen our activities in the existing fields or to move into new markets and areas. So we had a brainstorming session. We brought together a wide range of people from within the company to meet in a unique spot…the backyard of my house.
We had people there from every department: Technology, Finance, Marketing, Sales, Operations. Veteran team members and newbies, some with more and some with less experience. We presented all of the relevant questions, and shared with everyone our various concerns. Together, we discussed the risks and threats that were inherent to each of the options, along with the opportunities and potential possibilities. The discussion was both fascinating and productive. Each person made his or her own contribution to the thought process. People raised new, original, and innovative perspectives. They had great input, coming up with ideas that we never would have thought of.
This meeting sparked many decisions that helped make Intango the successful business it is today. This “backyard brainstorm” was so valuable that we’ve incorporated it into our company’s regular routine.
#2: Build your “A-Team”
When we established Intango we clearly wanted to create a flat organization made up of individuals with the autonomy to act independently. But I have to admit that it took time for me to fully understand that not anybody can integrate successfully into a flat organization. And not every organization is suitable to be flat.
Who Are the Right People for You?
If you want to succeed in flat managing, you better find the kind of people who are usually defined as “type A”. These people do not need to be told what to do and when. They want to take responsibility for the planning and for the outcome, and they are capable of finding their own way independently within a general framework. The people you want to hire need to be very ambitious and highly motivated. They want lots of experience and seeking to gain expertise wherever possible.
Before hiring, test their capabilities of living and functioning well in situations of uncertainty. If they do well in an environment without clear, strict guidelines and instructions, they are likely to be highly suitable. At Intango, we select individuals who do not need the ongoing supervision of managers. People who will grow and develop in a company that encourages independence. This independence allows people to reach their full potential, without a manager constantly breathing down their necks.
What Kind of People are Less Suited to a Flat Structure?
People whose personalities seek order and certainty tend to need directives and borders. Sometimes, they look for ways to promote themselves within a managerial hierarchy. generally, these types of people are less suited to a flat organization.
#3: Set Them Free!
Make this one of your working assumptions: the greater the degree of freedom given to members of the team, the greater the degree of responsibility that they’ll take on themselves. A greater degree of freedom gives people the space in which to make their own decisions. This is, without a doubt, the format that encourages the most productive and innovative ideas. Your organizational climate should encourage creativity, motivation, and innovation. Remove the borders and offer practically endless opportunities.
Our team knows we want to hear about any idea that comes into their minds. They know that we’ll support them and they feel valued because of it. Truthfully, almost all of our company’s activities and successes are based on the fact that people here came forward with their ideas – and we told them to go for it!
#4: The Main Rules Are No Rules
Over the years we’ve developed an environment that has almost no axiomatic rules, and this has been a huge contribution to our success. Pretty much the only rule here is – “Use your head.” If people find an erroneous rule (among the few we have), they are invited to protest. They have a say. They can propose an alternative and change the situation. Each person has an influence on every interaction.
I like to compare this atmosphere to a large canvas on which everybody is drawing — all together. Each person can see his or her own brushstrokes and is a part of the final painting. When people can see their own brushstrokes in the painting, they are much more invested and show a natural dedication toward its success.
#5: Create an Inspiring Work Environment
Correctly designing the physical environment of the office is crucial in creating a flat organizational experience. You need an environment that inspires your staff to take initiative and be creative. In our offices the flat structure and lack of borders find its expression in the office’s architecture. Everything here is planned and designed to encourage physical comfort and spontaneity. It empowers each person to think, create, initiate, and come up with new ideas.
When you walk into Intango’s office you immediately notice that there are no large executive offices or formal meeting rooms. The reason for this is not merely a matter of design. It reflects a managerial and organizational philosophy. We decided to create meeting areas and cozy rooms that invite people to get comfortable. Areas that encourage open, ongoing communication in an informal and completely equal environment.
To sum up my article, if you strive to grow a successful technology company and bring it to its full potential, the “flat management” approach is crucial for you. The survival of your company is dependent on its continued innovation and ability to bring true solutions to the market. In this climate, “flat management” is your edge. Your secret weapon.