My grandfather was a Petty Officer in the Navy in the Pacific in World War II. He never made it to Chief Petty Officer, to his great annoyance, but he learned not long after he arrived in the Marshall Islands that there were plenty of ways to get things done without having that rank. The story goes that in those days only Chiefs were issued toolboxes on the base, so if somebody carrying a toolbox asked you to come along and help with a project, you did. Grandpop discovered this and, not being one to be bound by Navy regulations, would just pick up a toolbox when he wanted to raise a crew for some task, and people would come along and help. Conversely, if he didn’t have a toolbox, no one was interested.
One of the things I like about working in open source, and at Red Hat specifically, is that you don’t need to be carrying a toolbox to get people interested in working with you on a task. All you really need is a good idea and some knowledge of who the people are who might want to help. I’m not sure why this should be so — maybe it is that so much of our work is in open source communities that are powered by volunteer effort, or maybe we just all believe we know enough to decide for ourselves whether we want to help with something. Either way, many of the best things we have done at Red Hat have come not from top-down decisions but from “coalitions of the inspired” getting together and pursuing something that looks worthwhile.
There are some drawbacks to this culture. It tends to put a strain on people who are willing to volunteer, because not everyone is — when I was in Brno, we had a lot of manager committees to look after the site, and it was always the same 20 managers who showed up to help (out of 100). It also makes it hard to know whether people are doing what they’re really supposed to be, or working on side projects they find interesting.
I am fairly sure, however, that I’d rather have it this way than the way I imagine things work at other large companies — doing just what’s required, and lots of politics. Plus I don’t see how I could carry a toolbox to all the meetings I go to.