What Steve Jobs can teach us about effective company structure

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When Steve Jobs redesigned Pixar’s headquarters in 1999, he insisted that the building encircled a central atrium. This was an area that connected all the company’s divisions, so that all employees would have to pass through the same space. Every employee became familiar with every face behind the work of their company. Pixar’s employees took part in more tangible community, and were easily able to liaise with other relevant people. Graphic designers weren’t sending their work to faceless engineers – they were sharing them with friends who agreed on a vision.

Regular exposure to other employees leads to more collaboration, and greater company cohesion. In an integrated workplace, it’s easier to determine accountability for delegated roles, which means everyone has access to the right person, and no vague sentiments are circulated between loosely tied divisions. In the 15 years following the campus redesign, Pixar produced 14 films, many of which rank among the highest-grossing animated films of all time. They were able to produce better films because they reduced the barriers between their divisions.

The point of effective workplace structure is to dissolve managerial bureaucracy. A reduction in power politics and exposure to other workers boosts the empathy and morale of all people involved. The office becomes an honest and integrated place where it’s easier to recognise one’s overall role in a company.

And we don’t have to rebuild our offices from the ground up. Unprecedented leaps in technology give us a range of digital spaces to use. But we must, above all, use them fairly. Steve Jobs showed us that in a successful business, there can be no place for arrogance, or unwarranted hierarchies.

We can’t underestimate the extent to which the function of a product reflects the interior politics of a business. A fragmented team produces a fragmented product, and a wholesome team produces a Toy Story, or an iPhone. You end up with more cohesive product – one that pertains to the central idea of your business. You can claim that central idea as often as you like, but ensuring that the idea is applied, and is knowable to consumers, means transforming the workplace first.

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Photo credit: Wired Photostream on Flickr.

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