Valve Corporation – Company without bosses

Valve CorporationAgain I was in a project meeting. Project was in crisis, so we had crises meeting. There were eight people total, six out of them were more or less managers. Only two were people who actually did work for the problem and tried to fix it. None of us others had no plans to work for the solution at the slightest.

This was not my first time being in such odd position. I don’t like it.

Now let’s move from my world to something totally different – Valve Corporation.

Valve Corporation

Valve Corporation is game maker and video console manufacturer. Valve gets most of the profit from its Steam Engine. Steam Engine is marketplace for games. Valve has existed since 1996 and it was founded by two Microsoft ex-employees Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington.

Wikipedia knows everything about Valve Corporation

Valve has employee handbook which has leaked to publicity. Handbook brings to public organization that is not unique, but still rare and controversial. .. and the book actually managed and updated by employees.

Valve has no bosses. They just don’t exist.

Valve is not only one. There are others and not all are working for games. Morning Star (Tomato Processing), W.L. Gore (Known for Gore-Tex), GE Aviation (General Electric Aviation) and Github (Software).

There is a lot of truth and justification behind it. The biggest blockers and the cost for companies to go forward are the managers and the management overhead they create. We (managers) are not bad people and we don’t do it on purpose, but it is the fact we spend a huge amount of time to communicate priorities and dependencies among managers and that work does not make anything to happen.

There is a lot of persuading and talks on going and a lot of so-called collaboration among managers. But the real work is done on lower level. Whatever happens on higher levels, does not actually become as actions. And if there is no actions, there is no results and there is no money.

If you want to achieve and get things done, if you need to have real productivity, you need to increase the number of actions. Only the number of actions matters. You don’t increase them by increasing bosses or meetings among bosses. You need to empower the people who make actions.

It is often assumed that increasing the number of teams, you get more done. It is true if you have several pipelines and NO dependencies among the teams. If teams are companies themselves, they can produce a lot – but as a company you might want to achieve something in common and then it becomes difficult.

The best organization is organization that really uses all the skills in the organization cross the boundaries.

In other words…

The fastest result and the best quality is achieved, if you have right people to do it. No matter where they are in organization.

Perhaps your integration team is lacking a senior developer and in some other team the senior developer is lacking the work. He is kept in his team because organization says so, and of course his boss is not willing to give up his senior developer. There is no boss that would give his best resources away.

The traditional teams have few problems:

– Team rarely has perfect match in skills for the tasks
– There is no work for every team member all the time. Unless you have team with really multi talented members.
– There are skills, knowledge and talent all over the organization that is not used.

Shortly the work and talent do not meet each others.

But what if the teams and bosses would not set boundaries. There would be the project and then anyone could take part or anyone could try to recruit someone?

That is Valves way.

Even the new employees are not told what they should do. They should find their place in projects by their own. People don’t have rooms and most of the desks are on wheels. So – that changing the team and project would be easy as possible.

Where I have worked, the job rotation is always the problem. It never works, but it is always desired. (At least it is said so)

Without bosses and organization job rotation has little obstacles. If the person is willing to take challenges and of course the teams would trust him to do the tasks he picks. He is free to do so.

For sure Valves model has its own problems – but it aims to use the talent and creativity to the max. And that is extremely good for company that works in the business of games.
Nobody is perfect. Valve Corporation recently laid off people as well.

Kotaku Article about Valve Layoffs.


The best organization is probably somewhere between Valve and the traditional. If your organization is highly operational, perhaps it is better to create flat but structured organization.

If you find Valve interesting you should read these articles:

  • Businessweek : Why there are no bosses at valve
  • : the-4-billion-company-with-no-bosses
  • : Top 10 most awesome things from the best employee handbook ever

..and the Valve Handbook.

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