Company Culture: How much freedom is too much?

A “seven-day weekend” with no org charts, job descriptions, fixed working hours, formal approval structure or an HR department – sounds like paradise, right? Or work, depending on whether or not you’re an employee of Brazil-based company Semco.

In a recent interview with FORTUNE, Semco CEO Ricardo Semler talks about some of their most popular employee programs. Their Retire-a-Little plan lets employees chase certain retirement dreams early, in exchange for continuing with meaningful work beyond the intended retirement age. Regular “Are You Nuts?” meetings are held to address only the most outlandish ideas and suggestions. And there’s an on-going invitation for employees of all levels to crash meetings that interest them (even in other departments), and simply walk out of those that don’t.

But it’s not all sunshine and lollipops over there – in a system with some striking similarities to Survivor, employees risk being voted off the team every six months by their peers. It’s a good reminder that some of these laissez-faire practices may not be as ideal as they appear at first blush.

Before you climb aboard a Semco-esque pirate ship of your own, be realistic with how your personality is going to fit with the company culture over time. Consider the following:

1. Can you work without clear deadlines?

2. How self-directed are you when it comes to setting goals?

3. Can you avoid getting caught up in whether others are pulling their weight?

4.Will you be satisfied working within an undefined rewards structure?

5. Are you okay with walking into work every day, not knowing exactly what’s going to happen?

6. Can you stay on track in an agenda-less meeting?

7. Are you willing to stray into potentially unproductive areas in pursuit of big ideas?

8. Can you ditch the “5-year plan” still look forward to an uncertain future?

9. Will you stay motivated in the absence of regular feedback or traditional performance reviews?

As more and more companies experiment with non-traditional benefits in pursuit of the ideal company culture, you’ll need to decide how your working style fits in. The Semco wonderland may sound like the stuff of a utopian sci-fi flick, but it could be a more prevalent reality sooner than any of us realize. 

Will you be ready for it?


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