Secrets of the Cabal: Half-Life’s Organizational Management & Other Agile Tales

organizational management at valve corporation cabal process

From humble beginnings as a simple clone of the then-popular first-person shooter Quake, Half-Life would eventually become the first installment of one of the most successful video game series of all time.

Today, Valve Inc. is one of the most renowned, innovative, and successful game development companies worldwide, boasting one of the largest video game digital distribution service platforms on the planet, a range of pioneering virtual reality hardware and an impressive roster of instantly recognizable and widely-loved game titles.

Specifically, the development of the original Half-Life makes for an interesting case-study, and represents a model of innovative agile organizational management.

Half-Life is remembered as one of the best games of all time, and the intense environment in which it was created – where the Cabal process was born – is testament to that legacy.

Companies like Valve, Zappos, Semco, and even Google have come up with different models to enable the potential of their workers. These methods give power to the employees to pursue their own entrepreneurial pet projects.

Tesla’s innovation is equal part production process as it is the product; you need only look to the hulking Gigafactories to find evidence of this.

Similarly, Facebook’s success is not just in the service it offers users, but also how it was designed to scale to billions of users.

The process of organizational management is always an important factor in the outcome of these hugely successful products.

In this post I’ll be looking at democratic methods of organizational management, with a particular focus on Valve’s Cabal process. I’ll also mention a couple of other interesting examples of holocratic organizational management, and talk about our own internal structure at Process Street.

Here’s a quick breakdown of each section, if you want to jump ahead:

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Digital Democracy: Improving Communication and Trust in Your Business

digital democracyOne of the impacts of technology on how we do business is a greater ability to structure our companies differently and to leverage advantages which would previously have been difficult.

At Process Street, our team is based remotely. Which means we’re able to draw on a wealth of talent based all over the world.

Technology means that communication between remote employees can be as effective as it is within an office; sometimes conferring extra advantages.

I wrote for AppCues about how our internal systems are so robust precisely because we’re remote based and we need to take every step possible to make sure we don’t suffer any information loss in our communication. This has given us internal processes which are much stronger than many brick and mortar firms.

Being remote is not the only benefit technology can bring. New tech can flatten organization structures, effectively delegate more responsibilities while retaining accountability, and help to create cultures where everyone feels valued.

One of those factors is the ability to bring multiple stakeholders into decision-making processes; a shift which holds a fundamentally democratic ethos.

In this article we’re going to look at:

  • What is democracy?
  • What are the positives and negatives of incorporating democracy into an organization?
  • The democratic ethos in practice and how you could use it
  • 5 suggestions for how technology could facilitate democratic input

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The Secrets to Making a Bureaucratic Organization Run Like a Startup

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As you’ll have noticed when you phone call centers, visit the bank, or deal with the government in any capacity, bureaucracy can make organizations slow and frustrating to deal with.

Endless forms and complex layers of approval impact a company’s services along with the morale of its employees. It can leave organizations unable to adapt to new market pressures or external threats.

The UK Home Office, during the Windrush Scandal, ended up wrongly deporting many people who came to Britain after the Second World War from the Caribbean. It was exposed that these people were being wrongly deported yet deportations and other negative effects continued, as illustrated by The Guardian. The organization failed to respond adequately, and a scandal was born.

Despite all this, large organizations in our society – whether they’re governments or big business – aren’t just going to go away. Instead they need to find ways to adapt and improve while retaining the benefits which pushed them to develop complex bureaucratic structures in the first place.

The big question is: how do you manage operations within a bureaucratic organization so that it can run with the agility of a startup?

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In this Process Street article, we’ll explore:

  • When, how, and why bureaucratic organizations experience slow movement
  • The failures of large organizations to achieve efficiency
  • 4 key examples of big bodies trying to break free from the problem
  • Our important takeaways for how you can maintain agility and efficiency in a large organization

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How 4 Top Startups are Reinventing Organizational Structure

organizational structure headerWhen a city doubles in size, the productivity per person increases by 15%. When a company doubles in size, the opposite happens.

Companies like Zappos see this as a fundamental problem to solve. For them, the root lies in organizational structure.

With the opportunity to be dispersed remotely and to build complex products without factories and production lines, the tech industry is particularly able to pursue innovative approaches to structure, management, and organization.

Increased self-management, remote working, and task forces instead of departments, are all emerging trends which lend themselves to growing businesses.

Elon Musk talks about his businesses innovating the production process as much as the product. Mark Zuckerberg describes Facebook’s structures and organization as its biggest asset.

Ethan Bernstein, Assistant Professor of Leadership in Organizational Behavior at Harvard Business School, adds:

…[O]rganizations who are increasingly thinking about structure as an advantage and a form of making their employees more productive, will continue to evolve and innovate in this direction. And that’s something I think we’ll see across all organizations, regardless of whether they are trying to deliver “wow” to customers, or trying to do something very different.

So what are the competing philosophies which are driving these trends within the industry? Which companies have implemented the most extreme reorganizations and how have they dealt with the changes?

In this article we’ll look at:

  • Zappos: How they implemented Holacracy, with a why and how explanation.
  • Buffer: The steps they took to prioritize the individual within the company over management structures, with the challenges they faced and the lessons they learned.
  • Zapier: How they reflect these general shifts and why they chose not to dive in to extreme organizational innovation.
  • Basecamp: The marriage of many competing philosophies documented through their company handbook.
  • Process Street: The tool which helps you build the machine which builds the machine.

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