The minute you start drawing lines and boxes, you're instituting an "us versus them" mentality. And that's the last thing you want at a start-up.
Organizational charts are pointless.
First, they cause you to waste too much time in Excel aligning boxes and trying to make sure you don't misspell somebody's name. And second, they divide your company's culture.
The minute you start drawing lines and boxes, you tell people how to align and communicate, which results in an "us versus them" mentality. And that's the last thing you want at a start-up.
It's true employees are trained to ask for an org chart, though that's not what they're looking for. What they really want to know is how to make an impact at your company.
Traditionally, org charts were used to explain who works with whom on a regular basis. Here are some thoughts on how to get a small group of people to execute without one.
Organize Around Goals If you have more than three company-wide goals, you have too many. At a start-up, you should only focus on a few important things every 12 months.
Most companies are organized by function with teams for sales, marketing, engineering, and so on. Each department has their own set of goals, which sounds great on paper but can lead to disfunction.
For example, if only the marketing department is responsible for growing your customer base, only a small group will consider the problem. Even if you highlight "customer growth" at every company meeting, it won't matter. The people who impact this metric will pay attention, while everyone else will tune it out.
In contrast, putting together a cohesive team with diverse abilities--say engineering, design, and business--will give you ideas for every part of your business, and they'll get accomplished. When everyone shares the same goals, they won't need to convince other departments their goals are more important.
Rotate Leaders Once you've organized your teams, you'll need to appoint leaders to each of them. Keep in mind these people aren't responsible for managing or reviewing team members; their goal is to empower the team to turn out great work.
This fluid structure will allow you to foster new leaders and let those who don't want to lead step down. Not everyone should lead, but in a traditional structure you have no way of finding leaders without changing their rank. And changing boxes is hard on everyone.
Have 360 Peer Reviews After every project, give your teams an opportunity to review themselves. Whether it's anonymous or not doesn't matter; what matters is that people get used to giving (and receiving) feedback.
At Contour, I did a terrible job of this. We tried annual reviews, but they were so foreign to the culture that they were hardly valuable. So make sure to do your peer reviews constantly, as waiting a year is too long for a fast-growing start-up.
Create 'Roving' Work Stations If your office isn't on wheels, people are going to feel tethered to their desks. And when someone is asked to move, they'll resist. Make "re-arranging" part of your culture from the beginning. Roving work stations create a culture that allows your business to stay flexible.
Find Mentors A lot of managers mentor their team, but if you don't have a rigid reporting structure, you'll need to find mentors inside and outside the company. Picking your own mentor can be much more impactful than having a person pre-assigned to you, just because they are your manager.
360 degree peer reviews provide instant feedback about how people communicate, while a mentor will help them improve at their craft.
Conclusion Once there's an org chart, it's hard to remove it. After all, it represents your company's structure. So if you want to work towards a no org chart culture, be sure to talk openly with your team about why you want to change and how everyone should operate going forward.
Keep in mind this type of culture isn't for everyone. But if you are looking for inspiration, both GitHub and Valve Software have successfully ditched their charts.
MARC BARROS is the co-founder and former CEO of Contour, a hands-free camera company. Shortly after graduating from the University of Washington, Marc co-founded Contour in 2004 and led the organization from a garage to a multi-million dollar company. Contour products were sold in over 40 countries through action sports retailers and national chains, including Best Buy and Apple. @marcbarros