Altimeter Group is "Open" and growing

I’ve spent the past week holed up with the Altimeter Group team in San Mateo doing the things that all companies need to do every once in a while — take time off from the everyday to assess where you are and plan for the future. Team members flew in from the East Coat and we all gathered together to build the foundation together.

We’ve been in business as a firm for almost two years and have experienced tremendous growth – and also a great deal of growing pains. I thought I’d share a few insights into our journey, in the same way that we ask you to share with us.

The reality is, being in a start-up is a trying experience. We’ve learned a lot, both good and bad and it is not always easy. Some of us are analysts coming from other firms while others have been in other industries. That means that we had to create a culture from the ground up – and the results weren’t always pretty!

But one of the most interesting things about our culture is that it is based on openness and humility – two values that aren’t usually found in corporate mission statements. We are trying to build on each others’ strengths while also recognizing that we are all still on a journey to learn and grow. And as the author of “Open Leadership”, it’s probably inevitable that we have an open culture!

As you can see from the picture, our physical space is open, with desks ringed around a large open area. The conference rooms are where we work together on research and client projects. But when a third of the company is working remotely outside of the office, we have to work extra hard at staying connected and transparent with each other.

To do that, we use an enterprise social network hosted by SocialCast where we post everything from reminders to change email passwords once a year to celebrating new clients and sharing briefing notes. Other things we share include the view from the desk of wherever we happen to be working (most recently the Outer Banks of North Carolina) and funny pictures of ourselves for people to caption. The result: we feel more connected on both a business and personal level, so that when we need to work together, we have a common connection on which to build.

We also do lots of work together – and by work, I mean physical work. We recently held a Pilot event in the space, where we invited people to a discussion on “Social Analytics and Strategy” led by Lora Cecere and  Susan Etlinger (picture to the left, more pics also available). About two hours before the event, we all came together and assigned tasks, from moving aside the tables to setting up the folding chairs. At one point, I was collecting all of the trash cans and putting them in strategic areas! The event was well received, but it was all the more fulfilling knowing that we all individually had a hand in making it a great experience for people.

But more than anything, being open is also a mindset, and a key thing we try to do is to create a place where people have a say in everything from our values to our long term strategy and organizational design. One of the most satisfying moments of the past week, as we closed out and got feedback, was that each person felt that they had a voice and that their viewpoints were valued. But there was also concern though, that we maintain this level of openness and intimacy as we grow. That will be a significant challenge, as we will require more oversight and overhead to manage an increasingly complex business. But there’s one thing I believe in — as long as we keep at the center our core value of being open with each other, we’ll figure it out.

I’m interested in hearing how other companies have weathered the storms of rapid growth — how do you retain that small, dynamic, and natural closeness as you grow, and across geographic distances? What roles does technology play? What kind of culture are you purposefully trying to create?

And of course, if you’re interested in being a part of the culture-creation at Altimeter, please check out our many “open” positions!

  • http://photocontestinformation.com/ photocontestinformation

    Thanks for such a nice article charleneli

  • http://www.thepolltaker.com Lisa Loeffler

    Hi Charlene, I love Altimeter’s culture to position itself as an open and approachable organization. More organizations and brands should consider seeing ALL their employees as strategists who can share valuable ideas and insights to help take a company to the next level and realize its vision. Using SocialCast to bring together a team that works across the US at different locations & who travel a lot is a great way to make team members become more connected and feel a stronger affinity for one another. It’s also a great idea for firms that have international locations whose team members work closely with one another around the globe on a daily basis, but who may never meet in real life.

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  • http://waqasaday.wordpress.com/ Waqas Ali

    Hi Charlene, nice reading about how you people are trying to build a culture from ground. More I also wonder, what are the top challenges Altimeter faced / facing during first two years of growth.

    Well, I’m 23 and based in Pakistan. It is been now more than a year, I’m digging in business. Built my team and didn’t do well. In short we failed.

    But now learning from that year, we are getting up again. Biggest challenge is to differentiate challenges. Too often we treat everything in the same way.

  • http://influential.com.au/ Dallas McMillan

    Thanks Charlene, it sounds like you are ticking all the right boxes on creating an open workspace and company culture.
    I agree with you about the importance of doing simple physical stuff together. If we retain traditional power structures all the time (eg. executives never put away their own coffee cups) then talk of community is just talk.

    How important do you think the layout and desk arrangements in the office have been, in retrospect? Are their downsides?
    This isn’t always achievable for existing buildings, which might deter some businesses from taking on the open approach.