Today we will hear from Helen at Gamevy. Not only are Gamevy an awesome games company, they also have a unique organisational structure. Have you ever heard of sociocracy? Well your about to.
I’ll let Helen tell you about why Gamevy is so different when it comes to company culture.
Please can you describe the unique culture of Gamevy?
Gamevy is employee owned and has a flat ‘no boss’ structure.
We believe that where employees own the company, they are truly invested in the company’s long-term success. We want Gamevy to be made up of intelligent, innovative, talented people. We want the work we do to be fun. We want people to be happy. We believe that this is best achieved by giving them ownership and freedom. We also believe that by achieving these aims, Gamevy will see better business results.
Ownership and freedom mean responsibility. No-one can tell anyone else what to do or pretend to have the answers. There is dissent and challenge as well as collaboration and trust. We are all jointly responsible for our success or failure, and we share both risk and reward. Gamevy has several measures in place designed to make these principles ‘real’.
- Everyone in the company is empowered to spend up to 20% of company cash reserves
- Everyone in the company owns shares – the more you sacrifice in salary and the longer you stay, the more you own
- People work where and when they want
- Decisions that tie the company down (hiring/firing/strategic direction) or cost more than 20% of cash require a democratic vote (weighted by ownership)
- Transparency – no internal email, hidden files or invite-only meetings – all company information is accessible to everyone
What is the rationale, or the fundamental beliefs behind the structure?
Gamevy’s philosophy of ownership tries to solve the problems we see around us in traditional companies.
Most companies try to maximise the return for somebody else – normally a few concentrated shareholders. Whatever the rhetoric of ‘customer first’ or ‘employee empowerment’, in practice, such concentrated returns often happens at the expense of other stakeholders. In the case of start-ups, these ‘few shareholders’ tend to be the founders and the initial investors. Naturally, these people deserve a reward for the risk they took, but if successful, then the returns tend to be enormous – far beyond anyone’s initial hopes. Later employees rarely get offered the rewards of ownership.
Instead, employees are expected to maximise their own return by battling their way through ranks of hierarchy to reach the Board. Here they can vote themselves large amounts of pay and share options (often at the expense of the shareholders and those lower down the hierarchy). This top-down hierarchy limits the talents of others in the organisation who are excluded from the big rewards and decisions. We find this whole outlook and structure inherently wasteful, costly, and damaging to real, long-term success.
How has it been instrumental to creating a great company culture at Gamevy; what are the effects that you’ve perceived?
Gamevy attracts independent-minded, entrepreneurial people. Everyone at Gamevy could earn more elsewhere. They stay because they appreciate that if we succeed, we will all do better together than we could separately. It means that Gamevy runs a team of exceptional talent at a run-rate so low others choke with envy when they hear it. This is not exploitation – it’s about recognizing that the longer we can survive, the more likely it is that one of our ideas will take off. Without the ownership model, Gamevy would not have survived 3 years pre-revenue with only one funding round. It is absolutely fundamental to our very existence.
What difficulties or resistance have you faced putting into action?
Some aspects of setting up the company in this way are harder – the articles are not standard, the trust and tax questions cause more issues. Gamevy has dealt with those ourselves rather than getting specialist advice since we needed to save money.
Obviously it’s easier setting the company up this way from the beginning rather than changing half way through. Some aspects are harder – investors may be less sure and less willing to invest. The more people understand and adopt the model, however, the faster this will change.
What noticeable effect has the structure had on morale, output and workplace happiness etc?
Gamevy is incredibly cost-conscious and lean. We deliver faster and more effectively than any business I’ve worked for. We are all hugely committed to the business and in general our morale is high. Of course, because we share everything openly and because we share risk, when something goes wrong (inevitable in a start-up) we also all feel the pain of that together! We also enjoy working together and have high levels of trust. Naturally – our passion means we also fight occasionally – but on the whole I would also say this is the happiest company I’ve ever worked for. Certainly when something goes wrong – whether that’s in business or inter-personal relationship terms – we all understand that we and only we have the responsibility and power to fix it. No manager is going to adjudicate or referee a disagreement – we just have to deal with it.
What learnings has it produced? What advice would you give other organizations pursuing a similar initiative?
We spent a lot of time upfront thinking hard about the type of organization we wanted to be and how that could be made real – so that Gamevy is not built on ideals or words, but on solid actions and rules. We believe this was time well spent. It means that when there’s heavy pressure, it’s much harder to abandon ideals and easier to stick to our principles.