No Bosses, No Managers and Desks On Wheels

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Mar 28, 2017

This series profiles people whose ideas have the power to transform the workplace. Several are company leaders who have put their ideas into practice. Others are thought leaders influencing the way we work. This is the final installment. Links to previous articles are at the end of this post. This series originally appeared on the OpenWork blog.


Jay Goldman believes the future of the workplace starts with desks on wheels.

He first encountered this unusual design choice while profiling Valve Software for The Decoded Company, a landmark 2014 book about how big data is changing corporate America. Valve has a completely flat organizational system, with no hierarchy at all, and each team member’s desk has wheels, allowing them to join any project they believe they can add value to. When they’ve done all they can for that project, they join another, or start one of their own.

“Although perhaps too extreme for most organizations,” Goldman says, “Valve’s approach shows the importance in empowering your people to take control of their own destiny and choose a path that rewards them while rewarding the company at the same time.”

The Valve set-up is an example of what Goldman and his co-authors call “an engineered ecosystem,” in which an evolving, organic structure has replaced a traditional top-down hierarchy. Some of Goldman’s other favorite examples of engineered ecosystems include Whole Foods, where their autonomous team structure lets workers respond nimbly to unique problems faced in their store, and the software company Intuit, which developed an in-house brainstorming app designed to let employees bypass the hierarchy to share ideas across departments.

In 2017, Goldman envisions the start of a future where employees can jump from project to project, as easily as pushing a desk.

Other parts in the series:

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