At Valve "three people can ship anything"
Greg Coomer describes the limits of Valve's self-directed corporate culture
Valve's Greg Coomer has claimed that the company's famously flat structure means that any three employees can effectively create and ship a product without interference.
Speaking at the Seattle Interactive Conference yesterday, reported by GeekWire, Coomer detailed Valve's self-directed corporate culture, which gives employees total freedom to plan their daily activities and choose which projects to work on.
"Three people at the company can ship anything," he said. "And the reason it is three people - because really it is one person can ship anything - but the work gets better if you just check with a couple of people before you decide to push a button."
"If we are going to hire these incredible people, and we are not going to put constraints on them, then we can't be afraid to let them actually take charge and ship"
Greg Coomer, Valve
"If we are going to hire these incredible people, and we are not going to put constraints on them, then we can't be afraid to let them actually take charge and ship. That takes a lot of courage and trust."
Coomer joined Valve from Microsoft in 1997. As such, he is one of the company's longest serving employees, and was involved in the creation of the employee handbook that leaked earlier this year.
"There are attributes that other companies have quoted about themselves, that they allow their [employees] to spend some fraction of their time actually deciding on their own what to work on, but at Valve that percentage of your time is 100 percent," he said. "Every single person is responsible for deciding what they do every day.
"That can be pretty daunting. Everyone is constantly making big decisions for the company, and deciding where we'll go and what products we should build and so forth. It can feel like an exercise and an experiment in cooperative leadership."
If it is an experiment, it's certainly working. GeekWire reports that Valve now has 320 employees, and generates higher profits-per-employee than Microsoft, Amazon or Google. Nevertheless, Coomer acknowledged the difficulty in making outsiders understand Valve's process.
"We are trying to learn to talk about it in a way that doesn't make us sound crazy," he said.
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