Flatarchies and The Agile Enterprise: A Flux7 Case Study

By Flux7 Labs
July 24, 2019

Flatarchies and the Agile EnterpriseAs the start of a new series about becoming an Agile Enterprise, today’s blog focuses on organizational structure as agile teams are a key element to a successful Agile Enterprise. Many organizations embrace agile ways of working in an attempt to build faster, more customer-focused and resilient organizations. At Flux7, our goal is not too dissimilar as we seek to elevate our values of innovation, transparency and being humble by empowering employee self-motivation and team accountability — all of which in turn enables us to be innovation labs for our customers, helping drive customer success.

With scale comes the need for structure. So it was in the fall of 2018 when we found ourselves having grown to the point where we needed to form a workgroup to investigate possible organizational structures. The workgroup was comprised of representatives from our PeopleOps team and executive sponsors. As a team, we decided that whichever structure we chose it would need to achieve a few main goals. It should:

  1. Allow fluid roles to align their work and share information across teams;
  2. Limit the layers of hierarchy to empower autonomy; 
  3. Give us the resiliency needed to experiment, fail fast and try again, and;
  4. Support our AWS DevOps consulting delivery team’s agile processes.

We began with research. As the PeopleOps project lead, I spearheaded the effort, looking into a variety of organizational structures like Teal, Flatter, and others that support Agile and DevOps Enterprises. We sought out sister organizations who “look like us” in size and scale who had been through this process. What we found was that while being a flat organization is growing in popularity, not many companies use it in combination with an Agile Mindset.

Finding Flatarchy

Ultimately the team started creating sample organizational charts to test the various structures. As the team put names into boxes they realized that they were quite literally putting people into boxes — which is antithetical to building an agile organization. This realization drove us to choose a Flatarchy. While a Flatarchy is more of an idea than a structure, per se, it gave us the fluidity we needed to create team leads without a hierarchical structure; it allowed us to create ad hoc workgroups which meant we had the organizational ability to try new things and quickly fail or succeed and; it provided a critical line of sight to ensure business priorities were being met.

What is a Flatarchy

While we were unable to find a good reference organization, we created our own. With the benefit of a little hindsight, this turned out to be the best possible outcome. What we created for the Flux7 team is a flat structure organization without traditional managers. Flatarchies are adaptable, which makes it conducive to new technology and company growth. This approach blends both a solid and a loose structure, and it is this combination that allows more fluidity in short-term as well as long-term projects and initiatives. To support that fluidity, we have several roles within the flatarchy. Here they are, as taken directly from our Culture Book, a reference guide for employees:

    • Teams: A group of individuals who collaborate together towards the same goal or sub-goal, and work to establish best practices, somewhat like a traditional department (however we don’t use the term department as it supports a more siloed approach). Everyone at Flux7 is part of a team, which serves as their “home base”.

    • Team Leads serve their peers by providing guidance and facilitating goal alignment within the team and with other teams. They will organize team efforts to establish standards of work and coach their team members to adhere to them. Most importantly, they serve their team by providing a safe environment to foster team members to be humble, innovative, and transparent. An observant Lead acts like a coach who encourages career development, empowers the team, and never micromanages. They have and convey a clear vision and strategy for the team, and organize team effort to establish standards of work along with collaborating with other Leads in achieving company goals, our OKRs.

    • A Work Group is a group of individuals working towards a short-term goal. This group will ideally include members from different teams as this helps reduce the possibility of work silos. Work Groups should be easily assembled and ultimately dissolved by the Work Group’s Lead (Person Accountable and who creates the WG).

    • Development Mentors, are teammates from another team who is there to build a long-term mentorship relationship with an employee. And, employees will, in turn, be asked to mentor a new employee as Flux7 continues to grow. The Development Mentor is a different person than the Mentor Guide.

    • A Mentor Guide is a fellow teammate assigned to a new employee to help guide them through the first couple weeks, introducing them to people, resources and the Flux7 culture.Flux7 Culture Book

Once we decided on our ideal structure, the next step was to introduce it to the company. As a transparent organization, we had been talking about this initiative and our research around different possible organization structures, so the roll-out was eagerly anticipated. We introduced the concept at an all-hands meeting, explaining the approach and its implications for employees, and conducted a thorough Q&A. In addition, all new employees receive training on what it means to work in a Flatarchy and we’ve included a section on our Flatarchy structure in the Flux7 Culture Book.

Our training focuses on how Flatarchies work, but more importantly, how they support Flux7’s corporate values of innovation, humility, and transparency. Here they are, as shared in the Culture Book: ed the concept at an all-hands meeting, explaining the approach and its implications for employees, and conducted a thorough Q&A. In addition, all new employees receive training on what it means to work in a Flatarchy and we’ve included a section on our Flatarchy structure in the Flux7 Culture Book.

Flux7 Culture Book Ingredients

  • Humble: Flatarchies allow us to introduce Leads without the connotation of them being managers, which helps people accept and receive constructive feedback in an understanding manner and on common ground.

  • Innovative: Flatarchies support innovation by allowing us to create ad hoc work groups comprised of the best-fit employees for any specific initiative, giving us the best possible insights and experiences to solve problems.

  • Transparent: Flatarchies encourage employees to share information throughout the organization. Removing traditional boundaries requires greater information sharing which enables us to more readily achieve common goals.
Lessons Learned

As we’ve gone through the process of researching, selecting, introducing and working in a Flatarchy, we learned several lessons.

  1. Ongoing Training. A Flatarchy is not flat. Yet, we learned that this misconception exists for some. While we do not have managers or supervisors, we do have leads, which are in place to help transfer knowledge across the company and to encourage peer development. The idea of leads was confusing for those people who associated Flat and Flatarchy, driving the need for further training and explanation. 

    Moreover, while we introduced the Flatarchy about seven months ago, people are starting to talk more about it now. It has taken several months for people to start understanding the implications of the new structure. The initial rollout contained a lot of really great information that may have been overwhelming at the time or simply not fully understood until an employee actually lived it. The lesson learned here is that transition takes time and it’s important to revisit training to ensure that questions are answered.

  2. Use Mentor Guides. It takes time for new employees to transition to a Flatarchy, especially if they haven’t worked in this type of structure before. If you are accustomed to having a boss give you a list of priorities to work on, an environment where you are expected to take initiative and find work will be foreign at first. We assign new employees onboarding mentors to help them acclimate to the new structure and Flux7 culture which is focused on self-motivation and accountability. Mentor guides are exceedingly helpful and an approach we’d definitely recommend to others.

  3. Reach Out to Others. While we didn’t have much luck finding organizations that could help provide case studies during our structure research, we subsequently found a sister organization whose example has been amazingly helpful to us. In a world where continuous learning and improvement is imperative to business success, we’ve learned that it’s important to be an active part of a community of learners.

    On the flip side of the coin, the team felt initial pressure to find an organization that modeled our ideal structure. Ultimately the team learned that it’s more than okay to innovate and create a structure unique to Flux7, our goals and values.

  4. Stay Transparent. A core value at Flux7, the process of choosing an organizational structure has only served to highlight the importance of transparency. As a decision that impacts each and every employee, we were as transparent about it as we are everything else at Flux7, which resulted in greater employee trust in the process and outcome.

    Employees know that we chose Flatarchies for their ability to help us stay fluid with our operations, maintain our culture and empower employees. For example, if we need to create work groups for an initiative, it’s easy to do so. And, employees are equally empowered to obtain access to tools, earn certifications, transfer/seek knowledge and more. 

When we considered organizational structures for Flux7, at the core of our search was a desire to maintain the empowered, transparent, innovative and humble culture that we’ve worked hard to achieve. We knew it would be detrimental to Flux7 to create a deeply hierarchical structure, and were quick to rule out that type of organizational structure. Yet, being a Flatarchy does not mean that there is no structure, it just means that there is a higher level of trust, collaboration, and accountability between our employees. At Flux7, our Agile DevOps Teams exhibit humility to create a safe, welcoming ecosystem that is the genesis for trust and continuous improvement to better serve our customers and our peers, helping us deliver on the ultimate goals of an Agile Enterprise.

Interested in joining our Flatarchy and culture of innovation? Check out our Career opportunities here: https://www.flux7.com/careers/  Or, reach out to us today if you’d like our DevOps consulting team to bring an innovation lab approach to your IT modernization strategy.

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