Ulrik Bo Larsen is putting a flat leadership model to the test.
The Danish tech entrepreneur runs a company called Falcon Social that makes a social media manager for the enterprise. His most unusual trait? He doesn't have an office or a desk--or even a regular place to work. One day, he decided to camp out for the day in the sales department. A German intern approached him and asked for help moving some boxes up to the third floor. No problem. The intern looked a bit surprised when he realized Ulrik is the CEO. Still, it's just the way he works--and the way his company works.
"I see myself as one of the team," he says. "I take leftovers from the fridge home like everyone else, I do my own dishes, and once in a while I give a visiting office dog a belly rub."
The flat leadership model is based on Scandinavian principles of equality. Not only is the corner office a thing of the past, there isn't even an office structure at all. Falcon Social also has no middle-managers. Individual success is based on personal achievement. Most meetings take place while standing. And, there are very few long e-mail chains.
As a result, the company's revenue grew 640% last year. Larsen says their success can be attributed in part to the fact that they work so homogeneously as a team. For example, employees are not assigned to big bloated projects. Instead, teams are small and their projects are even smaller. Each employee is responsible for his or her own tasks.
"Some of our colleagues who have relocated to Copenhagen to work for us--for example, from the US--do get a bit confused over the ownership and responsibility they get for their projects," he says. "We let our employees explore the way to the goal themselves or as teams. That makes them rise to the challenge. We clarify goals and give responsibility accordingly, have feedback sessions along the way to measure what's working."
The strategy is also backed up by a unique approach to productivity. Larsen encourages everyone to follow The Cult of Done Manifesto, which Makerbot founder Bre Pettis outlined in 2009. The concept is all about letting tasks fail naturally and reaching a done state faster. As you complete tasks, you provide the fuel necessary to complete additional tasks.
Coupling the flat management model with an individual achievement model is quite brilliant. It produces results across the entire organization.
"We are results-oriented, but we enjoy getting those results, so interpersonal relationships are super important, too," he says. "We embrace the employee's special talents and interests, but we're only aware of that if we know our employees. As a result, we're an incredibly social group. We have beers at work, but a lot of us get together after work as well."
How does it all come together? By staying flat in their leadership model, encouraging social interactions, and promoting personal productivity over project goals, Larsen says the team feels more empowered, trusting and supportive of one another. There are clear micro-organizational goals that foster good reflection and feedback among the team.
What do you think? Should small companies have middle managers? Is it OK for the CEO to move boxes up to the third floor? Is the project-driven model (not a task-driven model) the only one that can work in a start-up due to how the budget approval process works? Post your opinions here, by e-mail, or on my Twitter feed to discuss.