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CEOs: Tear down those walls

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

As president of Aon Risk Services, Ted Devine ran a company with $5 billion in annual revenue and 28,000 employees. Yet, despite his prestigious post, he had career misgivings.

Often, he’d leave his opulent office and see a cluster of staffers in the hallway hoping to talk with him. It was as if people were lining up to see the pope.

Now CEO of Insureon, a Chicago-based insurance agency that serves small business, Devine welcomes the chance to chat freely with his team. They no longer line up for a few seconds of his time.

To maximize his accessibility, Devine established an open-plan office configuration. He set up shop in one corner of an expansive room.

From his desk, he can see all 20 em­ploy­­ees who are based in Insureon’s headquarters. Removing all cubicle dividers helps everyone collaborate better.

“For me it says a couple things about leadership,” Devine says. “One is: No walls, no barriers, no hierarchy. Everybody can talk to everybody. Everybody can participate in a decision.”

Because half of Insureon’s employees are under age 28, the no-walls aesthetic works especially well. Younger staffers crave opportunities to express their ideas and opinions directly to the CEO, bypassing a rigid hierarchy.

The openness promotes information sharing. For example, a support-level employee walked up to Devine to discuss some problems with a product. After 15 minutes of informal back-and-forth, they hashed out solutions.

— Adapted from “5 Influential CEOs Weigh in What Makes a Good Leader,”

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