The Self-Governing Office

Consider, for instance, the fact that hiring at Menlo is handled by committee, with each applicant spending a little bit of time with a group of employees, until a consensus can be reached. That same collective decision-making happens during promotions, layoffs, and flat-out firings.

Consider next the charts in the corner of the office, which display the names and titles of the Menlo employees and also their corresponding pay grades. When I first saw them, I was standing in the midst of a scrum of Menlonians, and I suggested — thus belying my own, frankly square work experience — that it might be a little unnerving to have your salary exposed to your colleagues. And the guy standing to my right actually scoffed. “No,” he said. “It’s the opposite. It’s liberating.”

In this week’s New York magazine, Matthew Shaer examines workplaces that use “horizontal management” rather than hierarchical management — which basically means that things are run without traditional bosses and more like King Arthur’s round table where no one is seated at the head, and everyone sort of self-governs themselves. Shaer visits the headquarters of Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, Mich. where programmers work in pairs, hiring and firing decisions are made by the team as a whole, and in a relatively new development, employee titles and pay grades are displayed openly on a wall. The employee-retention rate at Menlo is high and everyone feels a sense of ownership. It’s not perfect, but it’s working.

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