Rotunda is an organization of under 20 people serving over a million users. And we’re not just getting by - we constantly reimagine and rebuild our products, push technological boundaries, and provide a level of service rated 9.07 out of 10 by our customers. At the same time, we keep a tiny footprint and have no dependency on outside investors.
We attribute this extraordinary efficiency to three key practices that can be implemented at any organization.
Build a culture of individual responsibility
When individual responsibility is ingrained into an organization's culture, a whole world of needless management practices and inefficiencies can be eliminated. For example, employees are trusted to track their own to-dos, so you don't need a management-level system to catch loose ends. Employees are trusted to manage their own workload, so you can eliminate daily check-ins. Employees show up on time for their meetings so valuable team-time is not wasted.
Building a culture of individual responsibility starts with the hiring process. You don't need to hire unicorns, but you do need people who are committed to being diligent, honest professionals.
Then, set high expectations. Enumerate them during your onboarding process, and demand them from each employee. In order to maintain a culture of individual responsibility, every single employee must be on board. Otherwise, the culture of individual responsibility and its benefits quickly erode. For instance, if some team members occasionally lose track of to-dos, managers step in with inefficient oversight systems to plug leaks. Or, if one person is consistently late for meetings and team-time is wasted, other people soon follow suit.
Flatten your organization
In a flat organization, people who are lower in the organization's hierarchy have direct, regular access to upper management, and concerns and inefficiencies are easily expressed and addressed. Employees feel empowered to talk directly to the person most impacted by an idea or a conflict or project without having to go up the chain and then back down a different chain, saving time and reducing miscommunications. Upper management also operates "in the trenches", making important decisions in real time and keeping the entire team aligned.
To flatten your organization, first lower communication barriers by creating situations in which people on all levels of your organization come together as peers. At Rotunda, weekly breakout sessions and optional virtual activities serve this purpose. Company retreats also give us opportunities to relax the notion of organizational hierarchy, focusing on being together rather than being packed with meetings.
Another method to flatten your organization is through multi-tiered check ins - that is, regular one on one meetings between employees and their manager's manager. These meetings quickly expose points of friction across organizational layers and provide an opportunity to clarify and reinforce high-level goals.
Also, it's important that upper management meaningfully and regularly contributes to ground-level activities such as customer support, product design, and marketing. Circumventing the usual organizational hierarchy in this manner enables well-informed, rapid decision making, fosters camaraderie, and provides opportunities for leadership through example.
Create a cycle of incremental improvement
Having a culture of individual responsibility and a flat organization sets the stage for the hard work of continuous, incremental improvement. To achieve extraordinary efficiency, each team within your organization, and your organization as a whole, must enter a tight cycle of identifying and implementing small opportunities for improvement. These small improvements then add up to enormous efficiency gains over time.
In order for this cycle to function, people need to be vocal about the points of friction they are experiencing, and management needs to attentively and thoughtfully address them.
Start-stop-continue meetings are a very effective way to force the gears of this cycle to turn. We recommend having these meetings not only regularly on a team level but also annually on an entire-organization level. The logistics of an all-hands start-stop-continue meeting are challenging, but the juice is worth the squeeze. You may need to break up the process into separate meetings for start, stop, and continue. You can also collect input through a shared document, and then get together for discussion. Make sure that for each suggestion, you document a real-life example of the friction or opportunity that was its impetus. Real-life examples are essential for deciding what actions should be taken.
Well-crafted questions in weekly breakout meetings can also provide a catalyst for employees to express any points of friction or areas of opportunity they see with a particular process, aspects of their role, or the service your organization provides.
Management then needs to promptly decide how, and if, to act on each item. Whatever the results may be, make sure to share them with the person who originally voiced the point of friction so that they are motivated to continue providing valuable feedback.
We know from first-hand experience that implementing these three key practices leads to extraordinary organizational efficiency. They also create a healthy, dynamic environment that is uniquely rewarding for employees and managers alike.
Speaking of which, if you are interested in working in an environment with these qualities, we are hiring, and would love to hear from you!