How Medium Is Building a New Kind of Company with No Managers

For two years, Stirman managed a team at Twitter and never felt quite right about it. There was always the tension between being their boss and being their peer.


He started taking his reports out to lunch, to drinks, to coffee to see what was up. How was their wife settling into her new job? Did escrow close on their new house? This is the stuff that people bring into work with them but never talk about, Stirman says. As soon as you ask, the pressure starts to dissipate.

SCARF stands for status , certainty , autonomy , relatedness , and fairness . “Basically, when a person is honest with themselves, they’re most motivated by one of those qualities,” Stirman explains. (…) Here’s how it looks:

  • Status -oriented employees can be motivated by a possible title change, or having their name attached to more important projects.
  • Certainty -oriented employees are motivated simply by the reassurance that their job is important and they are excelling.
  • Autonomy -oriented employees may need the ability to work from home, or simply slip on their head phones to tune everyone else out.
  • Relatedness -oriented employees are energized by opportunities to socialize with their coworkers — happy hours, softball games, etc.
  • Fairness -oriented employees want to know the playing field is even, and they aren’t being exploited or cheated. They need to hear it consistently.

“It turns out that some people really care about one and don’t really care about the others,” says Stirman. “Once I had my team stack rank their priorities, I knew exactly how to reach them. All the little problems and personality clashes started to fade.”

In fact the Holacracy organization just released 4.0 of its constitution , so our company is upgrading — just like you would update to a new iOS."

Here are some of the key tenets that Medium embraces:

  • No people managers . Maximum autonomy.
  • Organic expansion . When a job gets too big, hire another person.
  • Tension resolution . Identify issues people are facing, write them down, and resolve them systematically.
  • Make everything explicit — from vacation policies to decision makers in each area.
  • Distribute decision-making power and discourage consensus seeking.
  • Eliminate all the extraneous factors that worry people so they can focus on work.