Flatland, population: Valve
The rest of us – peaks and valleys
No matter what your job is, not matter how long you’ve worked there, no matter where you work – we all know that crap rolls downhill. That’s what makes any kind of job difficult. Power goes to people’s heads, and that kind of power can create a toxic atmosphere.
Wouldn’t it be nice not to have someone breathing down your neck? Wouldn’t you be able to work more efficiently if the know-nothing higher ups would just get out of the way?
Well, if you haven’t already heard of it, let me introduce you to the organizational structure used at Valve: flat hierarchy.
Gaben says, “You da boss, man.”
A quick look at the Valve company handbook for new employees shows us that Valve has evolved beyond the needs of managerial hierarchy. They expect new hires to find projects of their own and productively contribute with little to no official oversight.
Ironically, the handbook affirms the old adage, “the customer is boss,” adding to this a clarification, “… but here [at Valve] that statement has weight.” If that really is the case, then how is it the Better Business Bureau gave Valve an F for customer service? What’s worse, the BBB got in touch with Valve back in 2013 to see what they were doing to address the problem…
No response to the BBB’s inquiries ever seems to have been made.
Without a general, an army is just a mob
As I previously pointed out, there are many factors involved for TI6 to take place smoothly. It’s difficult to coordinate these efforts while keeping up the kind of development the DOTA community has come to expect. It’s even more difficult when you don’t have a strong central hierarchy to isolate the big issues while keeping everything afloat.
“We [at Valve] do have a founder/company president, but even he isn’t your manager,” says the handbook. That sounds well and good for a smaller organization, where oversights will be more noticeable and those working on projects will be in better communication. But for a multi-million dollar (or more), massive project like DOTA?
Heed the symptoms, but treat the disease
Now, there are plenty of real life examples of flat hierarchies that work, and in some cases these even work incredibly well. But if the same customer complaints have been going on for three years without an improvement being made, maybe a change is in order. Maybe flat hierarchy, in its purest form, isn’t a strong model for the overall management of DOTA and other Steam games.
It’s difficult to say just what might best improve the situation. One thing is certain, avoiding growing issues with head-in-the-sand mentality isn’t going to improve anything.