Has Anyone Seen My Desk? I Parked it Here Somewhere.

 I recently came across an article through Fast Company Magazine titled, “You’re Hired. Now Figure Things Out”.  In this article they talk about an employee handbook from the video game development company, Valve.  They are responsible for several top games including the Half-Life Series and the Portal games.  This handbook was written by the employees and made it to the internet for the rest of us to enjoy.   The focus of the handbook is the new employee working to find his or her way in the unique environment at Valve.

Some of the highlights of the work environment at Value are listed below, but to get the full vibe, read the handbook yourself:

  • No true management structure or hierarchy
  • A Desk on wheels with expectation that the employee will wheel the desk around to join a team.  They literally unplug and wheel their desks to different project team.  Then plug in and go.
  • Oh yea, no set work assignments – find a team, join it, and wheel the desk over
  • Big decisions on projects can be made by anyone (see no true management above)
  • Hiring and customer focused rule as focus for all staff

I have read this handbook several times and WOW, cool stuff, but really does this work?  Apparently it does … for them.  Yet, what about corporate structure, goal planning, tracking performance and … leadership?  Well a closer look shows us that, no worries, this company has these elements covered.

Before I add my own thoughts on Valve’s business approach I had to verify that these guys are a real company with real products and they make money.  For my validation I asked an expert, my video game obsessed 17 year-old son.  Yep I went to one of those customers of this company who knows their games well and has his own opinion.  My son is not just good at playing video games, he is up to date on the industry and who is who and what is what.

No worries, my son validated that the games produced by Valve are awesome and this company is at the top.  My son also shocked me by telling me that he has read the same employee handbook and loved it. Oh, oh I think he may expect all companies to work this way!  (Note-to-self: talk to son about how “real” companies work.)

These guys at Valve are smart to get this manual out to the web as it will certainly aid their efforts to recruit the best of the next generation to their company. Good for Valve … but are there lessons for other companies?

So with my own level of validation complete, let me dive into this company a bit and provide my own observations concerning leadership and related.  My observations are taken entirely from the handbook (hey, you are going to read it right).  Yet, to get a opportunity to hang out at this company and see it for myself would be amazing.  I often talk about the role of anthropology in business – think of the “Valve jungle” as a place to sit still and observe and act as a participant observer.  A business anthropologist would find much to work with and write about for this organization.

Here are a few of my observations:

  • Valve reinforces the definition of Leadership that I follow – a process of influence.
  • The Strength of Cuture: Valve understands how culture can truly hold a group or people together.  Apparently they talk about it and work to get new employees set in their strong culture.
  • Valve has Strong Guiding Principles.  This is linked to culture and either you are on board, or out the door.
  • Flat Structure: they do develop structure as needed based on projects, but there is no set and enduring structure.  They say in the handbook very directly that traditional structure begins to serve its own needs vs. the needs of the customer and business.
  • Structure is necessary and it will develop, as needed.  It will then dissolve and reform for the next project.
  • Everyone is involved with customer service.  All are involved with the true nature of the organization: to get folks (my 17-year-old son and others) to love their products and the company behind these products.
  • People are the company.  Valve puts much energy into recruiting and the hiring process.  Once on board employees are supported to find their contribution.  They do track performance and spell out the process.

I am impressed by the approach by Valve.  For me they represent such a great example of leadership in our modern age.  Leadership can and should be shared.  Leadership is influence and all staff can influence the organization to bigger and greater.

Valve.  An example of We Move Together.

2 thoughts on “Has Anyone Seen My Desk? I Parked it Here Somewhere.

  1. Anonymous

    Hi Mike – its amazing to me that as we increasingly value the employee as the source of competative advantage our leadership styles increasingly empower the employee – this is the ultimate – a leaderless workplace.

    1. I get what you are saying … less to nearly no positional leadership needed. Leadership remains, contained within the people. IT will be situational within different organizations, but oen size fits all is ending. Thanks for your comment – Michael

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