The closest Valve gets to having bosses are people called Team Leads. Says the handbook, "Often, someone will emerge as the 'lead' for a project. This person's role is not a traditional managerial one." They serve as clearinghouses of information, "keeping the whole project in their head at once, so that people can use them a s a resource." When the project disappears, so does the Team Lead.
Is it possible to get fired? You bet, and Valve employees certainly have been, says Coomer. But the reason has never been for an honest screw-up. Valve from time to time has hired people who, by temperament, found it frustrating or impossible to work within so gossamer a structure.
He freely allows that not having bosses has its downside. The handbook, in fact, has a section headed "What is Valve Not Good At?" Number 1 on the list: helping new people find their way. After that comes: mentoring people, disseminating information internally, and missing out on hiring people of talent who simply need to work within a more traditional structure.
Management expert Colvin, author of "Management Strategies for Difficult Times," says he can think of only two other companies that do business the Valve way: Fabric innovator W.L. Gore, where, he says, not only is the organization flat but people's business cards list no title (just their name, phone n email).
"This is the company where somebody once said, 'To see if you're a leader, call a meeting and see if anybody comes.'" And the other boss-less company? A Brazilian outfit called Semco.