Is Having No Job Titles a Viable Organizational Architecture?



I’ve noticed that many of the most innovative IT companies seem to incorporate some seemingly unorthodox organization architectures. One of the prime examples of this is with Valve Corporation, in which there are no job titles. Whenever there is a new project, employees get to choose which aspect of the project they wish to work on. Valve employees appreciate this approach in that they can get their hands dirty in whichever aspect of the company they want. CEO Gabe Newell provided one example of an animator from the film industry who specialized in just mouth animations. But once he started working at Valve, quickly realized that he was longer confined to working on just mouth animations, but could instead work on whatever animation he wanted. This welcomes creativity among employees.

It may seem like this type of organizational architecture would result in not much work being done, or for there to be work that no one will choose to work on. However, Valve continues to create some of the most innovative and praised games, and their Steam market has proven to be an ingenious business model that benefits both the company and developers. Although not explicitly stated in the article, there are still employees who act as “managers” for projects. There may be no job titles, but there still needs to be some sort of structure and people who can keep track of the work being done.

What do you guys think of this type of organizational architecture? Is it always a viable option, or is it more suited for companies that strive to create innovative products and solutions? I personally think it’s a great approach for sparking innovation and creativity among employees, but also think that most employees will end up working on the same aspects of each project anyway. For example, in my group for this course, we each already have defined roles and divide the work to be done for each week, even though we could really work on whatever we want.

4 Responses to Is Having No Job Titles a Viable Organizational Architecture?

  • I think that this type of organizational structure has to match the company’s culture. For the Valve Corporation, I think it’s a perfect fit because they are innovative and working on different aspects of the project helps spark a lot of creativity for them. I would be interested to see if Valve employees tend to chose the same/very similar aspects of the project every time or if they mix it up.
    I also think this would be a good organizational structure for very small companies, because when a company is less that 30 people, organizational structure isn’t really important or necessary. But for very large firms, I can see this structure becoming a disaster. All projects would probably revolve around the politics of who is going to do what, and the intention of creating innovation would be lost.

  • I agree with Erin in that the size of a company determines the viability of a flat organizational structure; a large company needs more structure to operate, whereas a small company does not require as much. In a small company, employees are also generally more knowledgeable about the skill sets of other employees (simply because there are fewer employees in total). This is advantageous when projects initiated because employees know which coworkers should be sought out to assist with tasks with which they have previous experience. Even though Valve shirks job titles, it is no stretch of the imagination that their roughly 100 employees (from a count of employee bios at http://www.valvesoftware.com/company/people.html) are familiar with each other’s skills.

  • I agree with Erin and Travis that this type of structure depends on the size of the company. This structure working also depends on the job that a company is trying to do. If a company is trying to spark creativity and innovation, this structure would be most beneficial. Although this structure allows people to try new things and participate in new ways, people will most likely gravitate to what they’re good at. Going off John’s example, an animator who specializes in mouth animation they will most likely stick with that since that’s what they are good at. This animator might attempt eye animation but if they realize someone else is better at it they will most likely revert back to mouth animation so that they can best showcase their abilities. Maybe one of the best things that comes out of this structure is the freedom it offers. A lot of people don’t like to be pigeonholed in a position. So by allowing employees the option to move around, employees may feel more comfortable or more willing to work at that company.

  • This minimalist architecture seem to be ideal for encouraging creativity and keeping the workplace interesting and stimulating. I personally would enjoy working in such an organization. Performing the same tasks over and over makes employees too comfortable with the status quo which is part of why they become resistant to innovation later on in their careers.

    However, I have to agree that this model wouldn’t just magically work for all organizations. Such a level of autonomy only suits highly skilled employees and the organization seeking to embrace such a flat architecture needs to hire only highly responsible employees with very specific traits that would enable them to fit into that culture.

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