How Many Bossless Companies Exist Today?

 In April 2014, this post was updated to reflect the then-current employee counts for these bossless companies. LGT

My last post covered Valve Software and the more general topic of “bossless work environments”.  Tac Anderson kindly pointed out to me that I didn’t mention the well-known case of the Morning Star Company.

This started me thinking: Were Valve, Semco and Morning Star outliers? What was the  “Googleable” count of companies who are known to be “bossless”?

So I set out to do a first-order count based on the loose Google query “bossless company”. Sorting through results, I counted only those where I could verify through their websites and/or trusted news sources that had some degree of “bossless” culture.  By this somewhat hybrid  Googlish- public relations definition, I found the following.

The Answer: There are Some 18 Well Publicized Bossless Companies

The table below shows, in alphabetic order, the company names, headquarters location, number of employees, industry and/or vertical market and reference describing a  “bossless workplace”. Now as much as I don’t like messing with small numbers for statistics, still, I note that  there are some surprises.

 Update 4/4/2014: Based on reader comments in 2014 as well as significant hyper-growth in some of the companies discussed (eg. Github,Shopify and Stripe) estimates of the number of employees per company have been updated where noted.

[ultimatetables 1 /]

Beyond the United States

While many 12 out of  18 are in the U.S., particularly West Coast tech spots (eg. Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle), 6 out of 18 were based  internationally, including Australia, Brazil,Canada,France, Singapore and Spain.

These are Not Just Small Companies

Of these, six were less than 100-person companies. Some 12 out of 18 companies were less than 1000-employee companies. One third of the companies had organizations over  1000 employees, with the largest being the Basque province’s Mondragno with 85,000 worker-members. (Update: One year after the date of this post, Github, Shopify and Stripe have undergone tremendous growth – supporting the view that bossless org structures are not  incompatible with growth.)

Not Just High Tech

While the majority (11/18) are in tech-related areas, over one-third were not, representing  industries as diverse as s automotive, aviation manufacturing, tomato processing to  a natural foods supermarket chain.

Not Just Young Startups

Some of these organizations have a long history. Mondragon has been around since 1956. France’s Favi is over 50 years old and has operated without a personnel department for over 30 years. GE Aviation’s self-managed teams began over 20 years ago.


So some of you are thinking, “Oh no, dweep blonde. You are off by orders of magnitude.”

After all, some might argue I should count all open software companies, those where there is the thinnest of dividing lines between producers and consumers, where the software can be modified and redistributed by recipients. Wikipedia today counts over 50 free open software companies alone. Are those not self-managed collectives?

hackNY1Some might argue that hackathons should be considered. One list of hackathons compiled in the first quarter of 2012, counted 160 hackathons taking place worldwide. If we extrapolate that, it’s likely some 640 hackathons, groups of self-organizing code teams, take place each year.

Still others might argue to include the spontaneously organizing crowd challenges where teams of “Solvers” cooperate to address business, social and technical challenges for a large prize reward. As an example, Innocentive has enlisted over 285,000 Solvers across 200+ countries, addressing over 1600 challenges.

Whatever definition of “organization” you are willing to accept and the period of time over which they operate (one day as in a “hackathon” to decades for corporations such as Favi, Mondragon or Semco ), it’s clear that bossless workplaces are much more prevalent than one might first suspect.

Did I miss any obvious candidates? Who would you include? Or exclude?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *