Internal Google document likens company to slime mold as it grows

Internal Google document likens company to slime mold as it grows

Internal Google document likens company to slime mold as it grows

  • An internal Google document presented a theory as to why the company has become so slow.
  • A former employee who created the presentation compared Google to slime mold.
  • The paper posited that bottom-up cultures like Google’s could create “coordination headwinds.”

As Google grew to over 186,000 people, many of its employees and even its CEO complained that the company had become too slow, too bureaucratic and not productive enough.

These are common symptoms of any business as it grows, but an internal Google document — authored by a longtime ex-employee and still circulating among staff today — may partly explain why the Alphabet-owned company is facing a “headwind of coordination”. .”

“Google is a place that prides itself on moving quickly to solve problems on a global scale,” wrote Alex Komoroske, a former Google program manager who worked on products like Chrome and Maps. “But more recently it’s started to feel much, much slower. Accomplishing even seemingly simple things seems to take forever.”

The presentation, seen by Insider and titled “Why Everything is So Difficult at Google,” posits that Google’s size and bottom-up organizational structure have slowed it down significantly in recent years. Komoroske believes the root of the problem lies in what he calls “hidden strength”.

Komoroske likened Google’s bottom-up organizational structure to slime mold: single-celled organisms that can function independently but also form to create a larger network.

“Google is basically a slime mold,” Komoroske wrote, placing Google on a sliding scale from top-down to bottom-up structures. Komoroske said Google stands out by being more on the lower end of the scale

“It’s a fundamental part of our culture and is reinforced through our hiring and promotion processes,” Komoroske wrote. “Thrive in ambiguity. Reward independence and initiative.”

Komoroske also wrote that questioning the founders in weekly bare-knuckle meetings known as TGIF, as well as creating memes on Google’s internal Memegen site, were fundamental to this culture.

Komoroske said slime mold “can do amazing things” by creating more value than the sum of their parts. At the same time, the larger this type of organization grows, the more processes can slow down, as many parts act independently, resulting in “messy” behavior that can be “difficult to predict” and control.

A spokesperson for Google and Komoroske declined to comment.

It is unclear when Komoroske wrote the presentation. He joined the company full-time in 2008 and left in July 2021, according to his LinkedIn page. The last update of the internal document dates from 2019.

It’s certainly common for businesses to move more slowly as they grow, and Komoroske has since made a more generic version of the presentation available on his blog, where he explained that the theory applies to many businesses that grow up.

“I believe they are not specific to any particular context, but rather emerge inherently whenever there are self-contained individuals who care deeply,” Komoroske wrote. “Instead of ignoring these dynamics, I think it’s important to acknowledge them and embrace them with a sense of compassion and openness.

Komoroske suggested that there is no easy solution to the problem, but wrote that it is something that should not be ignored.

Concerns about Google’s bloat and bureaucracy have been reported internally for many years now. In 2018, more than a dozen Google vice presidents emailed CEO Sundar Pichai warning him that the company was experiencing growing pains, including issues coordinating technical decisions, the company previously reported. New York Times.

Like Meta and Amazon, Google has been hiring aggressively over the past two years, onboarding 30,000 new employees in the first nine months of 2022 and bringing its total headcount to 186,779, according to a company filing.

Now, Alphabet appears to be in cost-cutting mode. After slowing hiring last year, the company has targeted areas where it can cut costly projects and has even laid off staff at subsidiaries.

Are you a current or former Google employee? Do you have any advice? Contact Hugh Langley at or on encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram at +1 (628) 228-1836.

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