Non-hierarchy at Valve – and in church?

The employee handbook from games company Valve was released on the internet this week and I found it via a blog post from Seth Godin. He says it describes the ‘post-industrial method of management’ – a way of organising a company that is radically non-hierarchical.

Almost every organisation in the world operates with managers and managers of managers, a hierarchy – just like the military, where (according to a Valve employee) it is ‘perfectly suited to getting 1,000 men to march over a hill to get shot at’. It also works well in the world of manufacturing inaugurated by the industrial revolution, keeping employees under control and enforcing uniformity. But in our post-industrial context, we value creativity, individuality and freedom much more highly, so Valve (and a very few other companies) are experimenting with ways to run a company that do not depend on structured leadership.

If someone at Valve has an idea that they want to work on, they can – all they need to do is persuade other people to work with them. No one tells them what project to join or what tasks to do, they must choose what they can add most value to, what is most important. Anyone in the company can attach themselves to any team – they all have desks with wheels which they can move anywhere and plug in where they are now going to work.

Anyone can be a part of meetings and have a say in decisions, which are reached by consensus, though not necessarily without a lot of heated discussion. In this sense, Valve is a functioning anarchy – in its technical meaning of ‘without a ruler’ or leader, rather than its more popular sense of disarray and lack of direction. Each employee is empowered to take the company in the direction they want to see it go, and the only leaders are colleagues that people organise themselves around.

The idea of a functioning anarchy makes me think about the Occupy movement – again, officially leaderless, though there are people who lead and draw others around them. If people want to occupy a location they find others who will do it with them, take their tents and set up camp. If they want a demonstration, they use social media to find others who will come with them, if they want placards, posters or art installations, they collaborate or it will never happen.

I’m interested in what I can learn from these models that will inform church leadership – specifically the context of independent free churches that is my world. I don’t suggest that the Catholic or Anglican churches are going to implement non-hierarchy any more than Valve want the US military or Microsoft to change. Being outside of denomination structure has drawbacks as well as strengths and perhaps a radically non-hierarchical structure would amplify both.

That’s something for another blog post, though, or this one will drag on far too long. But I’m fascinated to hear from you – do you know some examples of flat church in practice, really non-hierarchical churches that deliberately reject any kind of leadership, even or especially elders and pastors. Can you point me in the right direction to find practical details of how those churches work? What do you think their strengths and drawbacks are/would be?