When Scott Berkun went to work for WordPress.com, it was an experiment. WordPress, which had about 50 employees at the time, wanted to see what would happen when it formed teams from a completely flat organization (no bosses, no subordinates). Berkun wanted to see what would happen when he applied his management experience, honed by nearly a decade at Microsoft, to an organization that was profoundly un-Microsoftlike.
What happened was The Year without Pants, in which Berkun relates his experiences as the leader of Team Social. (If you post a comment on this blog, you’re using software that was designed and written by Team Social.) Berkun is a good storyteller, with a terrific story to tell. As a result, The Year without Pants stands as one of the best management books I’ve read in years.
A gifted and savvy people manager, Berkun attempted to weave his managerial skills into WordPress’s unique corporate culture. There were a few missteps, which he recounts with refreshing candor. But for the most part the experiment was a success on both ends.
“Gotta remember this”
Berkun also had me, about a third of the way through, grabbing a pen and underlining “gotta remember this” passages. Here’s a sampling:
- “Only a fool thinks all decisions are made in meetings.” Only when you talk with people one-on-one do you have their full attention, and only then do you get their true buy-in.
- “All metrics create temptations.” As managers, we love to measure. But having too much data will choke off the intuition that’s needed to interpret the data and make smart decisions.
- Trust and clarity are the two essentials for successful teams. Every member has to trust every other member, and everyone needs to have a clear picture of the big-picture mission as well as the day-to-day game plan.
- In every meeting — in-person or online — “someone involved has the best reputation and most influence and chooses to use it or not. Those choices accumulate into what outsiders call culture.”
Your mileage may vary
If the story has a limitation, it lies in the fact that WordPress was — and probably still is — so different from the places I’m ever likely to manage in. Everyone works remotely, with virtually all interaction between colleagues taking place over the Internet. (The title refers to an inside joke that you could, if you wanted, work without wearing pants.) The culture is overwhelmingly young — Berkun, in his late thirties at the time, was the old man — and overwhelmingly male. Team Social’s quarterly get-togethers, held in different parts of the world, featured extravagant restaurant meals and many, many late nights in local bars.
Even though I don’t expect to replace my management-by-walking-around style with management-by-pub-crawl, and even though I can’t see myself going pantsless, I believe I’d enjoy working with Scott Berkun. I found much to like in his book, and I think you will too.
Have you read The Year without Pants? Please share your reactions in the comments.