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A look inside MX's flat organizational structure

The opening keynote at Gartner Catalyst 2018 in San Diego was all about how culture — not technology — is the number one challenge facing IT leaders going through the digital transformation process.

During the keynote, a lot of advice was given about how IT practitioners can drive cultural change by enabling a collaborative, interdependent internal ecosystem. One organization was highlighted by Gartner analysts for epitomizing that notion, with Gartner vice president and fellow Danny Brian saying the company’s internal culture is what “fuels their ability to digitally disrupt.”

That company is MX.

MX is a digital banking platform that is unique in that it embraces a flat organizational structure with no “architects,” no deadlines and, essentially, no internal barriers. In one of many video clips shown during the keynote, senior engineer Ryan Moore described his company’s culture as an ecosystem that’s “unmanaged in a top-to-bottom manner,” allowing them to move fast and “perform in ways a top-down managing system can’t.”

“We have the trust and controls in place that ensure that these interdependent pieces are moving together, accomplishing the goal of the company,” said Ryan Moore, senior engineer at MX. “We talk about ourselves as worker bees or ants a lot. [This flat organizational structure allows us] to work together to quickly find the things that need to be repaired and repair them.”

Moore was talking about an ecosystem of contributors in which responsibility has been pushed down through the ranks, to all employees. In other words, everyone in this ecosystem works toward a common goal, with little traditional hierarchical distinction between engineers and non-engineers, or practitioners and executives. MX embraces the attitude of “if you can do it, just do it” — non-engineers can do engineer work if they are capable, and a practitioner’s great idea is as valuable as one from an executive.

This type of flat organizational structure lends itself to an interesting dynamic between executives and employees at MX. Brandon Dewitt, co-founder and CTO, sits with the rest of the team, his desk indistinguishable from the rest.

“He’s in the trenches with us,” said Moore. “There’s something so great about having the person who signs your checks doing the same kind of work you do because your work gets valued in a way that is very honest.”

While Gartner analysts aren’t suggesting C-suite executives should be coding every day with their employees, they think there’s a lesson IT execs and practitioners can take from this as they seek to change their own internal culture.

“It’s about working for and with people who are engaged in the same cause and the same work that you are,” Brian said. Gartner research vice president Lori Robinson added that it’s also about the C-suite understanding the impact of the decisions it makes on the people that have to live with those decisions.

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