Each year, over 3,000 people fly in from around the world to visit a very special and unusual company.
Located next to a Korean Barbecue in Ann Arbor, Michigan, from the outside Menlo Innovations seems unremarkable. But when visitors walk inside, they are surprised to see no offices, no cubes, not even walls. Stranger still, this software design company has only one computer for every two programmers.
What visitors to Menlo are looking for, however, has nothing to do with physical office space or equipment. They are looking for the keys that unlock an engaging culture.
Richard Sheridan, co-founder and CEO of Menlo Innovations, describes their joyful culture in his book, Joy, Inc. – How We Built a Workplace People Love. In it, he admits to his own hesitations on writing about “joy”. He writes:
“It may sound radical, unconventional, and bordering on being a crazy business idea. However—as ridiculous as it sounds—joy is the core belief of our workplace…It’s the single shared belief of our entire team.”
In an interview with Sheridan, I challenged him on the practicality of open office floorplans and some research that suggests people prefer quiet and privacy. His response reflects the wisdom of someone who has clearly thought it through:
“So many people ask ‘why does this work for Menlo? And seemingly nowhere else?’ I tell them it’s quite simple: we didn’t build an open and collaborative workspace, we built an open and collaborative culture. We matched our space to our culture.”
The practice that seems most unusual is having two programmers share just one computer. This idea of “paired programming” although not mainstream is practiced by those who follow the Agile Software Development methodology. One would naturally think that this practice would double the cost of software development, but as Sheridan explains, “That would only be true if the true cost of software development directly correlated to the speed of typing. It actually correlates much more strongly to the speed of complete and thorough thinking of how to solve a problem. In this case, there is no question that two heads are better than one.”
With such a unique environment and approach to software development, hiring for cultural fit is especially important and it’s no surprise that Sheridan invented a totally unique process. He writes,
“In our interview process, we don’t ask any questions, but rather simulate the work environment. We ask interview candidates to pair three times, 20 minutes each time, with another candidate to work on a straightforward set of exercises together, while a Menlonian watches for good kindergarten skills.”
Menlo Innovations’ success practicing a culture of “joy” is so profound that Sheridan can’t help but share their experience with the world. One of his titles on his business card is actually “Tour Guide”. If you would like to visit Ann Arbor for a dose of joy yourself, you can schedule a visit to their offices by contacting them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, check out the book, Joy, Inc. – How We Built a Workplace People Love.
This article was written by Kevin Kruse from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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