Revisiting Hierachy 3 Years Later

Three years ago, I wrote about some “gotchas” in developing a democratic organization. After reading an article about hierarchy in organizations being essential, it prompted me to revisit our democratic organization posts of yore. Quick Left has gone through quite a few structural changes in the last three years as we’ve grown and matured. Turns out, humans are herd animals that will naturally stratify themselves in social situations. Who knew?

We started Quick Left as a pretty flat organization, but as we grew, made the transition to more hierarchy and structure. With so many intellectually smart people working here, you can imagine that the change was met with a variety of reactions. How could we still be a “cool” place to work when we had people with titles and managers, OH MY GOSH!!!!

When we hit about 15 people, our flat organization started to feel inefficient. We had multiple people overlapping each other in some areas, while other important business needs were left to fall by the wayside as no one wanted to claim ownership of them. This overlapping of duties and ignorance of other crucial business needs meant a lot of burnout and fatigue as people had to constantly fight fires on the dropped items with an already (unnecessarily) full workload. We were working harder, but not working smarter.

Additionally, we had informal leaders who felt that they didn’t have the endorsement of the founders to demand accountability from others. Finally, we had a growing situation where people didn’t feel empowered to just take care of what needed to be done because they didn’t really understand their place in the organization.

Now that we’ve gone through the transition, things are not only running more smoothly, we have less people feeling overworked and suffering from overlapping role-induced burnout. Accountability naturally improved when roles were defined, which is also a pillar of Quick Left’s mission internally and what we strive for when helping our clients. This change has enabled us to grow, and with the addition of offices in Portland and San Francisco, this maturity could not have come at a better time, when we need to scale our process even further across offices.

This post isn’t coming 3 years late, but when you are in the middle of it – wondering if you are making the right changes for the business – it can be quite difficult to encapsulate the thoughts and lessons learned. Finally, with some hindsight, I have a list of 7 notable changes and thoughts we experienced during the last few years in transition.

  1. Added a Leadership Team (who is now the Management Team) and an Executive Team (our CEO, CEO-Consulting, CPO and CTO).

  2. Added Committee Chairs to spearhead internal initiatives (Happiness, Hackfest, and Education committees). Some of these still exist today and others have evolved into other forms.

  3. Invested time in retreats to get alignment on goals from marketing, to finance, to business and more. This involved working with outside consultants and facilitators, internal leaders and several months of coordination to get a company-wide retreat in the works.

  4. Turnover with our morphing company. With such a high desire for developers in this market, this is completely natural in this industry to have turnover. However, with our transition, we went through a lot of people who didn’t like the fact that we were changing, or didn’t like how we were going about the change, or didn’t like the perception of the results of the change. Basically, we outgrew each other in many cases.

  5. Hired an executive coach. I use a coach for cycling which has enabled me to win 4 National Track titles, why wouldn’t I hire one for business? But, when you start a company, there is a feeling that you have to figure it out for yourself and/or coaches are expensive and/or too cheesy. It did take a while to find one that was the right fit, but when we did, it was worth it.

  6. Letting go of a co-founder. This was one of the hardest experience mentally and emotionally. It was felt by everyone in the organization, but it allowed us to finally align and acknowledge what we all really wanted to do within the company and what passions our co-founder ultimately wanted to pursue as well.

  7. Got people into the right roles. I’m all for growing people from within and helping to challenge them, but this is not always a good idea across the board. The desire to do something must also be matched with ability and knowhow, especially in more technical roles (legal, accounting, engineering, etc.)

Once we got alignment on all of our goals, we were able to see a huge opportunity with the Sprintly merger. So are we still democratic in nature? Did we maintain our culture? Yes to both. We now have more insight than before from financials to less employee turnover to defined roles and KPIs. We’ve even kept the door open and hired back some former QLers as we’ve grown! It’s a great time to be a Quick Lefter, and I’m thankful for the team of leaders and skilled craftspeople we have in our organization. Looking forward to the changes and growth ahead!