“Hierarchy is not part of our language.”
This was a statement that our CEO and Founder – Sarah Hawley – casually asserted at our End-of-Year Social Gathering last month. She dropped this zinger after announcing her decision to profit share with all team members…to a tune of 10% of Growmotely’s annual profits.
The casualness with which she made this statement betrays the incredible – and quite frankly, beautiful – implications this mental model has on our company culture…and could have on yours if you – as a leader of a team – are open to trailblazing, as well, on this front.
What does it mean to run a company without any hierarchy?
One easy way to spot a hierarchy-free company is that there are no ‘bosses’. Everyone is a sovereign actor in the company, and is responsible for getting his or her work done. Yes, there are ‘Team Leads’ – and we do have a CEO! – but traditional language that tips its hat to hierarchical structures is conspicuously absent…and the ‘parent-child’ dynamics that can often accompany these structures is also absent – or at least addressed as quickly as possible once noticed.
What kind of benefits might you see in *your* company if you were to start to make shifts towards this paradigm?
Where to start? Team members taking ownership, taking responsibility, and paying and receiving high levels of respect to each other are three behaviors that rear their heads over and over again when stepping more into a ‘flat and equal’ organizational model.
Leveraging this type of model also allows us to release some of the ‘burden’ and responsibilities we carry as leaders and invite our team members to carry it instead…in a way that ultimately creates growth for everyone. It is truly a win-win model. (It wasn’t the original plan to quote Bruce Springsteen in this article, but here we are: “Nobody wins unless everybody wins.”)
Here are some of the ways in which we are experimenting with stepping more into this paradigm at Growmotely:
(1) Unlimited Leave
If you follow our company closely, you may have read Sarah Hawley’s piece entitled ‘The rewards of unlimited leave‘, where she shares how she ‘landed’ on this policy, and the evolution of thinking that led to making this decision. In this article, she writes about how she had an ‘aha moment’ when it came to putting limits on leave. She had a realization that she was “treating the team as though they were unable to make these kinds of decisions for themselves.” And that really wasn’t appropriate given the people she had hired.
I recently had the privilege of hearing about another team member’s ‘aha moment’ related to this policy. She had – on autopilot – ‘reverted’ to ‘old ways’ and asked her team lead if it was OK with him if she took a full two weeks of leave over the Christmas holiday. The team lead swiftly – and deftly – bounced the ping-pong ball that had been hit over onto his side of the court back onto her side. Clocking immediately what had taken place, she quickly recalibrated and asked the question that really needed asking – using language that reflected the fact that she was the captain of her own ship. “I’m striving to take a full two weeks of holiday during this time period. Could you let me know if you see anything on the horizon that might prevent me from doing that?”
This was subtly transformative for her. The responsibility to manage one’s work lies with the person in question – and nobody else. Consultation around what needs to happen in order to take the leave desired was necessary in this case, but ultimately the responsibility needed to be anchored in her court.
(2) 10% of Growmotely is now owned by all Growmotely team members
Making the decision to share profits with our team members requires a willingness to take the ‘no hierarchy’ principle to the next level. With boldness, however, often comes rewards – and the thoughts and feelings already reported from team members since this decision was announced is looking good! Our CEO is feeling more aligned than ever; and team members are feeling more invested than ever.
If we, indeed, truly believe that all team members are vital parts of the whole, an incredible way to put your money (literally) where your mouth is is to explore some sort of profit-sharing set-up.
(3) Our CEO and her Executive Assistant
‘Interdependence’ has been cited as a more healthy alternative to co-dependence, and interdependence is what we are seeing in action with our CEO and her Executive Assistant. They both stand alone. The both have their own roles to perform and execute. They support each other and communicate with each other to get their respective roles done. It’s quite a different model from the traditional CEO/Executive Assistant dynamic, and the way they lift each other up is on display for all team members to see across Basecamp (our main project management and communication tool) and other platforms.
In addition to this, the vibe that emanates from both parties is that all team members are encouraged to develop their own relationship with our CEO’s Executive Assistant, and request her expertise and her value-add as appropriate. There is no ‘hoarding’ of her magic and skills by our CEO; every team member is able to exchange and collaborate with her as each situation calls for.
If you’re interested in moving towards a model whereby “hierarchy is not part of your company’s language,” we invite you to reflect on what actions you might be able to take – that are in sync with your leadership style and your company’s values of course – that would allow you to start stepping more into this type of model. You could start small and work your way up to something bigger. Or, you could take decisive action and go bold right out of the 2022 starting blocks. Either way, ‘being the change’ is probably the best way to see if this organizational paradigm is aligned with the future you are looking to build for your company.