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How a 130 People-strong Company with no Bosses are Defying Traditional Organizational Structures

Picture this: no bosses, no top-down decisions, no mishaps by management, yet a cohesive and innovative work environment. Helle Markmann, a product manager at Vertica, sheds light on the unique approach the company has taken towards building a workplace that values autonomy, competence and relatedness—the three factors identified by research as essential for employee satisfaction and high performance.

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Helle Markmann
Helle Markmann ( expert )

IT Project Manager at Vertica

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In a recent talk at GOTO Aarhus, Markmann delves into the key aspects that set Vertica apart, posing thought-provoking questions to the tech community. The talk delves into three crucial questions: Who makes decisions, especially the significant ones? What are the challenges of self-management? And why is it important to rethink how we organize workplaces?

Vertica's organizational diagram is presented as a unique, tree-like structure, illustrating the self-managing customer teams at the core, surrounded by supporting functions and organizational development groups, therefore highlighting the interconnectedness and collaboration among different facets of the organization. The company’s managerial structure challenges the very fabric of traditional methods that have been implemented and urges us to reconsider the way we think about work.

Decentralizing Decision-Making in Software Teams

One of the critical elements Markmann touches upon is decision-making. In the software development world, where complexity reigns and agility is key, who makes decisions and how they are made can significantly impact a team's performance. Vertica's philosophy is clear: decisions should be made close to where they will have an effect and expertise should guide the way. The emphasis is on "meaningful affected," ensuring that those affected by a decision are directly involved in the process.

Markmann shares examples from Vertica's day-to-day operations, illustrating how decisions are distributed among team members. From optimizing checkout flows to strategic technology decisions, the process is fast-tracked and efficient. The Tech Driver Group, a specialized team at Vertica, focuses on discussing technical strategies, ensuring that decisions align with the organization's goals.

Empowering Individuals with Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

Research indicates that autonomy, mastery and purpose are key drivers of employee satisfaction and performance. At Vertica, the emphasis is not on mere efficiency but on challenging the traditional Excel-sheet thinking prevalent in many organizations. The focus must be on fostering an environment where individuals feel in control, competent and part of a meaningful collective effort.

Vertica's dedication to employee development goes beyond traditional roles. The company has introduced a unique career coaching system where experienced colleagues voluntarily guide others in their career paths. This decentralized approach to career development ensures that individuals receive guidance tailored to their unique skills and aspirations.

Democratizing Salary Validation with an Algorithmic Approach

In the tech industry, where skills and contributions vary widely, determining fair compensation can be a challenge. Vertica has tackled this issue by employing a unique algorithmic approach. Colleagues, rather than managers, play a significant role in assessing each other's performance across categories like knowledge, innovation, productivity and teamwork.

This radical shift in salary validation emphasizes collective responsibility and transparency, mitigating not only the biases that might arise in a traditional managerial review process but also eliminating the hierarchical salary negotiation, promoting fairness and peer-driven evaluation.

Need for Trust

Vertica's approach is not without challenges. Markmann acknowledges the importance of trust in this unconventional model. Trust in team members to make decisions, trust in the coaching process and trust in the salary validation system are all crucial components that contribute to the success of Vertica's unique structure.

In a world where change is the only constant, Vertica is proving that a tech-centric, decentralized organizational structure can not only survive but thrive. The key takeaway for software teams: empower your members, distribute decision-making, and foster a culture where autonomy, mastery, and purpose are not just ideals but guiding principles.

As Vertica continues to redefine the landscape of organizational dynamics, the question is will this approach become the blueprint for the future of work in the digital age? Time will tell.