The Jellyfish Model—Lessons From the First Six Months
It was roughly six months ago that we started on our adventure to become a jellyfish company. It hasn’t been easy, but the promise is a great one—the chance to become a self-sustaining, organic company that thrives on freedom of choice.
The main catalyst in taking this leap was finding a way to give everyone in our company a voice. I wanted them to have a say in what we did, how we did it and who we did it for. It sounds great. Freaking amazing even. Definitely makes for fun talks at conferences and popular blog posts. But as I look back from the mid-point of 2012, there are some words of advice for those looking to follow in our path.
Define in writing how it’s going to work;
As is my standard operating procedure, we had an idea about being a democracy and jumped in feet first. It started slowly, but snowballed until we were asking everyone in a 20-person company about every decision the company should make. It brought us to a standstill for almost a week as we started talking about everything. There were divisions internally between people who liked the traditional system of being assigned work and those who were eager to change things. The result was not pretty. I can laugh about it now, but earlier in the year it was uncomfortable.
In fact, the term democrazy was getting thrown around a lot.
We learned that not everything can come to a vote or we’ll kill the company. Instead, people need to be at choice about how they work and what they work on. But decisions about how the company runs have to be handled by a smaller team with a bigger vantage point. If anyone is concerned or has a good idea they can bring it up at any time.
Big Lesson #1: People need definition in order to understand what’s expected, even when you’re talking about freedom.
Realize there are going to be things nobody knows how, or wants to do
I’m one to talk. It was about 18 months ago I decided to quit doing anything that involved managing the company. The change was a pretty huge success and a big part of our growth.
Like many of us running web shops, I have never taken a business class. My whole career could be summed up as winging it. Some people do this and are amazingly successful, like Frank Lloyd Wright. But Frank had a disposition that I don’t. He didn’t care about his team. He dominated them and dictated how everything would be done. It didn’t matter if he didn’t want to do something; he would just make somebody else do it. For me, because I have a vision of a self-sustaining company with empowered teams, it’s not that easy. I couldn’t force people to do things they didn’t want to.
I tried to convince myself that some of these things weren’t necessary or that they would work themselves out. But I was drinking hippie juice. Eventually these things that nobody does will bite you in the ass. Especially if you have people on the team, like myself, who like to wing it instead of approach it methodically. Estimates are an excellent example of this. There are people who are great at, and actually enjoy, estimating. If nobody on a team has the skill, give them access to someone who does. Same thing goes for timelines, project management, etc.
Big Lesson #2: You may not have everyone you need when you shift from a hierarchical model to an organic one. It’s more than okay to have great role players—it’s mandatory.
You have to be present for the jellyfish
model to work
One thing I’ve struggled with since shifting to the jellyfish model is when I should try to help the team. In complete honesty, watching the company I spent nine years growing make decisions on its own is the toughest thing I’ve ever done business-wise. I keep wanting to jump in, but I don’t. And then … sometimes it works out fine and sometimes it blows up. But recently I realized something that makes it important for me to always voice my opinion.
Nobody has the vantage point I do. I see things from a high level about what’s working and what isn’t. I can see trends across the company. I know which teams are creating great cash-flow and which ones are struggling. So while it’s important to let the teams choose their paths, it’s also important that they know everything required to make good decisions.
Big Lesson #3: If you want your team to make good decisions on its own, people must understand what’s going on and how their decisions impact the entire company.
Considering I’m the one at the helm, I have to say we’ve done pretty well in these first six months. There are more challenges we’re facing and more lessons to be learned, so stay tuned.
Oh, and as always let us know what innovative approaches you’re taking to business and how it’s working for you.