Would you be more eager to go to work in the morning if you did not have to spend time in boring meetings, had a 40-hour cap on your work week (and no work on weekends), had no flood of internal e-mail and were not afraid to fail? If so, you might want to check out Menlo Innovations of Ann Arbor, Michigan. We cannot all find work there, but we can all learn from Richard Sheridan, the company’s founder and CEO. He was determined to break his software development company out of what he saw as an unhealthy model.
I hit a trough of disillusionment very quickly in my career. I thought building great software was going to be a wonderful career for me. This is something I had wanted to do from the first time I laid hands on a computer when I was just a kid, but very quickly discovered that the typical corporate environment where software is done is often dog-eat-dog sort of culture. It’s the land of death march. It’s the land of failed projects. It’s the land of fear and uncertainty, and I quickly decided I didn’t want to be a part of that.
He decided instead of leaving the field, he would pump the fear out of it. He created a physical space with no barriers to collaboration and no visible hierarchy. Team members re-arrange it to suit them. After ten years the company did build some spaces where people could get away from the hubbub, but the glass enclosures retain the open-space feel.
Sheridan and his team got rid of meetings he calls “mind-numbing, spirit-sucking, energy-draining devices of management.” Instead, they gather in a circle at ten o-clock each morning for a check-in that lasts no more than 13 minutes. If anyone wants to confer with someone else, they talk to them in person instead of sending e-mail.
Although Sheridan works the excessive hours of the entrepreneur, he makes sure staff limit their hours to 40. If more hours are needed for projects the company has undertaken, he hires more people. The result is a higher quality of work, with fewer problems for clients because his software developers are alert and make fewer mistakes.
The kind of open and collaborative atmosphere would probably overload my noise tolerance in a hurry, but Sheridan hires people who thrive in it, and the results are impressive. Visitors from around the globe come to study what makes Menlo Innovations work so well. Inc. Magazine calls it “The Most Joyful Company in America.” If your company could use an infusion of joy, check out Sheridan’s book below. The company’s culture may not be applicable everywhere, but it gives me hope for creating more joyful work places.
Thanks to Gregg Morris for the tip.