Tag Archives: Support

Myth of Management With No Hierarchy

TL; DR

Leaders exist; therefore, hierarchy exists. A flat organization is not truly flat, it is made of many leaders. Those leaders have the responsibility to train others to replace them. The company has the responsibility to help those leaders be successful and be diligent on keeping things safe.

A flat organization is not truly flat, it is made of many leaders. Click To Tweet

Leaders are Essential

‘The Harvard Business Review’ has the article: Hierarchy is Overrated. This article paints a very favorable view point of flat hierarchy, but does not address the need for leadership at all. People will become leaders. This is an essential and natural process.

However, much of what needs to be accomplished by leaders, functioning in a flat hierarchy, is not natural. One of the main responsibilities of these leaders, is to move to stop being a leader, the sooner the better.

The way a leader stops being a leader is to train and inspire. Say that someone feels passionate about team building. They take up the reins, figure out ways to start building team communication and unity. They start the ball rolling. Now they need to look for someone else who cares about team building. They will collaborate, train, and inspire them to both take over and train someone else.

Potential Problems

There are a host of potential problems. Everything from dissatisfied employees to locus of control. Most problems will stem from one of these three root causes:

  • Denying the existence of leaders
  • Team not trained in essential leadership skills
  • Organization not really being flat

Leaders Exist

Leadership needs to be recognized, and its existence acknowledged. This allows an organization to better define how leaders behave and what it means to be passionate about some aspect of the organization. Don’t deny them, embrace them, try to understand them.

Everyone Trained as a leader

Train everyone to be leader. This is a lot of work, but it pays off as people can step up and handle issues and opportunities that they feel passionate about. Leadership can be more easily distributed and handed off from one leader to another. Everyone is capable in guiding and supporting leaders as they venture into new ideas and interests.

Here are a few sources I recommend:

A Flat Organization

Having an organization that has a distributed hierarchy can be challenging. The leadership, the people with the titles, needs to support it. They must trust people to do the job, and enable everyone to be trained. The highest paid people in the room have the greatest potential to do harm with the simplest word.

So, there is a need to prevent their hidden biases from polluting down into an unintentional hierarchy with certain people being ‘more equal’ than others. This can be done by really paying attention to building a safe environment. By encouraging those beneath them, in title at least, to contradict them and actively stepping back, these biases become smaller.

Giving up Control

The goal of every leader, should be, to eventually not be the leader. Each person should be looking at passing the torch, and ensuring multiple people can replace them. If this is not done they become the bottle neck and get in the way of success. The idea is that everyone can take a vacation and nothing stops working.

Each leader finds someone else who is passionate about the task at hand. They share responsibility, and train as needed. Eventually they will stand back and give their protégé or partner a chance to run things.

In Conclusion

A truly flat hierarchy does not exist. This is a good thing. What real world flat hierarchies enable is everyone with the inclination can be a leader. There are difficulties which can be overcome with hard work and trust. It is rewarding to work in one of these organizations and they can be more effective if you acknowledge the existence of leadership, train for it, and upper management supports it.

Making a safe place to work

Thanks

This post is a special thank you to @JoshuaKerievsky. First I do not work with Joshua, or am I associated with him, however he has inspired a large amount of good things within my team.

Safety is a Skill

Bringing safty to the place I work is one of my highest priorities. Now to be fair, my place to work is the most safe place to work I can imagine. So why do I focus on bringing safety to my work?

Safety is a skill. It is why all manufacturing companies have manditory safety training. But these trainings only cover one type of safety.

Phycological Safety

Google discovered that phycological safety is the key to a well functioning team. We have seen simular successes in our team well before this article was written.

Core Rules

My team’s core rules have been in place for almost 4 years (as of September 2016). They focus on building phycological safety. They are:

  1. Treat everyone with Kindness
  2. Treat everyone with Consideration
  3. Treat everyone with Respect

The first thing to notice is the word everyone. This is not just those you work with. It is not just the people within your department, company or developer community. It says everyone, and it means everyone. It also means that everyone you work with will do the same.

The Cards

I won a raffle held by Industrial Logic, Joshua’s company. The prize came with a small number of these cards:

The back states you have the autority to stop work if any of these things are at risk:

  1. Time
  2. Information
  3. Reputation
  4. Money
  5. Health
  6. Relationships

I instantly fell in love. I gave each member of my deportement one of the cards. I made discussing the cards part of the on boarding process. At the end of which I gave the new hire the card.

On Boarding with Safety

I inform every employee that they have great authority when they come to work here. They can stop work if they feel the any action anouther is taking threatens any of those things. I then express how our practices, Test Driven Development, Contiuous Integration, Mob Programming, and others help to protect these things.

The new hire now has the authority to stop our work if anyone violates these practices and the reason isn’t to experiment on a better way; and even if that is the reason.

Then I tell them the hard part of this authority. They do not only have the authority, but the responsibility. It is part of the job requirement that they do this. Ignoring these hazards is willfully not doing your job.

One of the best moments of my career was when I told this to our interns. They could not believe any company would give them such resposibility and power.

Part of our culture

A number of us have attached the card to our badges, as a reminder of how important this really is. We retrospect often and try to do things that promote this safety. I think we are better then any company I have ever heard of it this regard. However, I do not believe we are perfect or finnished. The company recognizes that this safety has obviously contributed to our success and we are dedicated to finding better ways to achieve it or grow it.

Toxicity is Abuse

Why I am writing this

This weekend I got into a lot of discussions about the responsibilities of a programmer.  I heard multiple times that a programmer cannot be held responsible if they are working in an environment that is toxic and forces bad behavior. While I do not advocate that someone threaten their ability to feed, clothe, or house themselves (or family) because of some theoretical responsibility, it is imperative to get out of a toxic environment.

This weekend I was in a conversation about a consultant that was described as abusive by the other employees and someone said: “They only fear for their jobs because they are too stupid to do the job right.” In other words, they deserved to be abused.

In another conversation, I mentioned that a programmer has a responsibility to do what is right. I was told that this was a pipe dream because of the toxicity of work environments. To me this translates as, “Offices can treat you any way they want because you are worthless.”

The funny thing is I have heard these statements before.

My mom married an advertising executive when I was 8. It turns out that he was a drug user who slowly revealed his nasty temper. I was often backhanded hard enough to knock me from my feet, and I got to watch as the same thing happened to my mom.

I heard the whispers of neighbors and even friends.

They sounded a lot like how I now hear people talk about toxic work environments. The words are slightly different but the meanings are the same. The fault lies on the victims. If they are being abused, then they deserve it.

It takes more courage, stamina and risk to stand up to an abusive person or organization than most people know. That chapter, in the end, was a small chapter of my life. My mom left that man one night and never looked back.

When we speak down on those being abused or make excuses for the abuse we make it even harder to do what is right. I implore you to stop this destructive behavior. Instead of making excuses for toxic companies, let’s do something about them.

Your responsibility

Every software developer has some professional responsibilities, even when we are unable to perform them. These responsibilities include:

  • We have a responsibility to produce bug free code.
  • We have a responsibility to produce code that is inexpensive to maintain.
  • We have a responsibility to produce value that is greater than our cost.
  • We have a responsibility to help those starting in the profession to be better at what they do.
  • We have a responsibility to share what we learn to progress the industry.
  • We have a responsibility to understand our customer’s, company’s or client’s business well enough to make informed business decisions about the software we write.
  • We have a responsibility to say ‘No’ to our employers if we are asked to do something that endangers time, profit, relations, information, reputation or money of an individual, company, community or ourselves.
  • We have a responsibility to provide value well above our cost.
  • [UPDATED] We have the responsibility to support those in a toxic work environment find a better one.

Doing that will cost me my job!

If you are in an abusive relationship with your employer, one or more of those responsibilities become impossible to execute without being fired. That is a tough and scary place to be. I am not saying for you to risk your job, and risk being homeless.

What I am saying is that you do have a responsibility to leave. Don’t quit your job without a new one. Look for help within the community.

Then share what you learn. Help the community understand what you did to find a good place to work. This will give hope to those who are in similar situations.

We need to use economic power to stop abuse.

These abuses are not illegal. They are immoral, but that does not give us any legal ground to prevent them.

Companies need to make at least 3x their operating costs to be successful. That means that a company sees at least 3x profit from your pay. YOU ARE WORTH A LOT MORE THAN YOU ARE BEING PAID! We have value. In today’s economy custom software makes and breaks a company.

If a toxic company could not keep their employees or better yet not be able to hire then they will not be able to compete against non-toxic companies. The problem now is that programmers stay in toxic situations. This allows toxic companies to compete.

Let’s stop this. Leave those companies. Leave them as soon as you realize they are toxic. Abandon them, and move to companies that are doing it correctly.

[UPDATED]

Moreover, remember it is not the fault of those being abused that they are abused. It is the fault of the abusers. Show compassion to those in need. Help them move to somewhere that will appreciate them. Help people recognize abusive bosses, coworkers and companies before they are in the position to be abused. Recognize that even with warning circumstances might necessitate they go anyway. Be prepared to help them.