Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Beyond 150 People

I read in one of my books, I think it was Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, that once a company passes 150 people, communication gets complicated. The example company that he uses is Gore, the makers of Gore-Tex, who always start a new location when one of their locations get to be 150 people. That way everyone at the location knows everyone. Another example was the military company. They do not climb above 150 much from what I understand.

I read this blog article by Seth Godin about working for a big company, and it stuck a chord with me. A couple of times I have come up with solutions to problems, and for whatever reason have not been able to follow through with the solution to a production change. Obviously part of business is deciding what needs to change and what does not, and my clout to decide between the two ranks at the bottom of the organization. In other words I desire to fix problems as soon as we find them, but there is a system of checks and balances that keeps people from running off and changing things without verification.

I should note that I don't like the word smart. If you start thinking in terms of "smart" and something else next thing you know you will start using standardized testing as one of the more important measures of a person.

This past week I also read the Valve company "Handbook for New Employees". It's really good, and it makes a lot of sense to me. For example, in a top down organization a few people at the top decide what projects are important enough to have people work on. In a flat organization, people work on the projects they feel are important. In other words, if the website at a top down organization gets redone it is because those at the top decided it was necessary. If the website at a flat organization gets redone it is because the employees decided it was necessary.

From a statistical point of view it makes sense. Instead of four people deciding on projects to pursue, 50 people deciding on projects to pursue are less likely to make mistakes. It is kind of like the financial crisis. A few people realized they could make a ton of money selling CDOs short, and managed to convince everyone else that if they took part in it they could have a larger house or larger paychecks. Of course, that is a huge oversimplification, and we could argue that everyone bought into the idea while it was happening, but giving loans to people that could not afford them seems like an obvious mistake. Remember they were not lending their own money and were thus protected from the potential losses. From the Valve handbook it seems that there is more accountability for value creation to the individual who does the work. In other words, how different would your work be if you were accountable for the value it creates through it's success or failure?

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