HE:labs and their great decentralized management solutions


Rio de Janeiro, October 2016

Leandro, who’s worked at He:labs for more than 2 years, tells us a funny story. HE:labs closed a deal with a client, and was ready to sign the contract a few days later in order to start working on the project the very next week. It took 6 weeks for the client to be ready to sign the contract. It took 5 weeks to HE:labs to develop the product.

When did signing a contract became longer than executing the project itself?

One of the perks of distributing the decision power to all collaborators is to save time and money from the long decision making processes that you can still observe in the traditional companies.

HE:labs is a software developing company that is based on trust and where it seems to work pretty well. They call themselves a decentralized company. The 60 people organization is fully remote. And it is not, as some of you may think, for cost saving reasons. They even have very nice facilities located on the 10th floor of a well-located building in Rio de Janeiro.


Team functioning

At HE:labs, they work with a rearranged scrum. Which means that there is no scrum master, only the team and the client. Every project has a specific slack channel where there are three different types of people: The technical team that will make sure that the clients’ needs are matched, a personal satisfaction group that is there to make sure the technical group has everything it needs to achieve the project, and everyone that has a special interest in the project so they can follow the advancements.

The customer relationship is based on trust. In Brazil, where those kind of structural organizations are not well-known, it may be hard to convince a client that a full remote team will be able to deliver a high quality product in a limited amount of time. Nonetheless, as soon as the client see, understand how that works at HE:labs, and decide to grant the team his trust, he is surprised, in a good way. Sometimes clients that has been working with them for quite a time, don’t not show anymore in the weekly meetings.

“The client trust us to make the best decision, so we can move forward without checking everything before. Sometimes, he appears, just to say: “Keep doing the work, great work””


To know more about the way they work:

Support function

 Even if some of the support function is still done by dedicated teams, others are achieved by what are called “teams of interest”. Along with his “regular job”, every employee can be part of one or several “teams of interest”. It enables them to be in charge of task in which they show an interest. Thus, the marketing, recruitment, allocation, travel, blog teams… are teams of 4 peoples that are formed because those persons showed a particular interest in those areas and wanted to be part of it. You can get in and out of teams of interest whenever you want.

Company Values, Mission and Vision

 HE:labs defends 10 core values that you can find on their website, along with their mission and vision; Among those, you can see two that often appear in the company we visited: Trust and transparency.

As Vineet Nayar wrote in his book Employee First, Customer Second, transparency is the basis of trust, which is vital for the well-being of a Self-managed company. Moreover, if you want an employee to autonomously take the best decisions for the company, they need access to all relevant information.

In HE:labs, those values are illustrated in the everyday life. Every employee has access to the financial data of the company in order to know if they’re doing well or not. It enables them to make sure that their personal work is useful for the company.

In addition, everyone has access to the code of the company’s credit card… No need to ask to offer a client’s lunch or so. Not even a limit in how much you can spend for such a meal. If a big investment need to be made, then you will consult your colleagues. If they do not think this investment needs to be made, you’ll just revise your idea.

“At the end, it is just common sense…”

No hours, you can work wherever and whenever you want, that is trust, the self-regulation will take place when someone abuse of the system, at least HE:labs collaborators think so, because so far there has not been such an abusive behaviour.

The collaborators of HE:labs decided to make their salary transparent by themselves. Unfortunately, they had to stop this process as it was not legal. Once again, the system is adapted to old organizational structures, and presents an obstacle for the transformation that we have been witnessing during our whole trip.

Decision making, issue resolution

One of the leaders of the company had an idea. Why not submit issues that are known to the companies by the collaborators? Even in a remote company.  All the company then took part in a “world café” brainstorming. Usually, groups of people meet at a table, and after 10 minutes, everybody switches tables in order to meet new peoples.

Digitally revised, that happened on Hangout (Google chat) where  several forums were created to replace tables. The issue? How to best allocate people when they are not working on a project. From the 60 people company, 100 ideas emerged, 10 were selected and 2 were implemented. The solution? New services that can be sold are being developed while we are speaking.

What’s more, they use their expertise for the good of their management and the decision making : they regularly develop apps that’s they’ll use internally: for example : HE:Finance, HE:Booking, or AppRaise.


The feedback process, and salary fixation

There are different sorts of feedbacks at HE:labs. The first one is the peer feedback. Taking place every 3 months, the collaborators “reveal” their colleagues either anonymously or not. In addition, there is a mentorship that begins when you are hired. A colleague will be your buddy, if you have any question, issue, that’s where you should head. And every month you have a face to face with your buddy (but more on request if necessary)

When you “reveal” a colleague, you have to answer the question: “Should this person earn More  / Same / Less than me, why?” And every 6 month, the shareholders will review the feedbacks and decide to change one’s salary, or not.

Employee integration and hiring process

When a team needs an additional person to fulfil a project, and that there is no one available, then the hiring process begins. The Hiring team (which is a “team of interest”) will publish the job offer and do a first selection on resumes. After that, the team will meet the applicant, because it’s the ones who will work with a person who should have the last word on his recruitment.

Then the new collaborator will come to the company’s facilities to do some “test” on the company’s values, culture and general facts. He will meet his buddy and be involved in all the company’s meeting directly.

On peut même monter dans le filet pour faire la sieste! 

Thanks a lot to the wonderful team that received us for their time and experience sharing!!


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