Many people love the idea of no bosses, no managers. Can you imagine? No one telling you what to do, no one criticizing you, and no one holding you accountable. It almost sounds too good to be true; a pleasant dream. Think of the empowerment. Think of the unleashing of the people in your workplace. It’s being done.
The no-manager approach has been implemented in a number of companies, including two you’re probably familiar with, Google and Zappos. According to Gallup, Google’s experiment with eliminating the manager role ended after just six weeks due to people issues and problems that couldn’t be handled without managers (read: The No Managers Approach Doesn’t Work).
Zappos implemented no-managers in mid-2015, called it holacracy, and immediately experienced a high rate of turnover. It will be interesting to see if they stick with it or if they evolve into a management system that’s a hybrid. It could be somewhere between having traditional management roles and work groups that are completely self-managed.
The key to their success will be whether they can generate needed business results while meeting their employees’ needs. One of the most basic human needs is to know what one is expected to do. When fulfilled, the employee has clear direction on what they’re going to do in the next hour, the next day and the rest of the week. When unfulfilled, the employee will struggle with uncertainty, doubt and maybe even fear.
A good manager will ensure that their employees know what’s expected of them. Will a work group fulfill that need for its members? Let’s face it. We’re not honeybees working in a hive and born with predefined roles. Instead, we’re a collection of emotional human beings with vastly different amounts of emotional intelligence. Will everyone figure out what they’re supposed to do with the best interests of the team in mind? I think it depends on getting the right people on the right team at the right time with the right training and with the right incentives. And then it has to be sustainable. I think it’s called having all the planets and the sun and the moon align.
Have I seen self-managed work groups function successfully? My answer is ‘Yes’, but only under special circumstances. One example is my own work group several years ago. Our VP left the company rather quickly leaving four of us without a manager for an extended period of time. Normally, that VP’s manager would have filled in as the defacto manager until a replacement was in place. She was way too busy to provide any supervision. She didn’t need to. We were a small group with challenging, but well-defined roles and we were highly motivated to keep the plane flying for a limited period of time. And we did. That description doesn’t apply to most self-managed teams.
For my money’s worth, I’d opt for excellent managers who can effectively engage their employees over a self-managed work group. What about you?
Want to get results and build your best team this year?
Join our email list for an insider copy of our ebook
‘7 Steps to Building High Performance Teams.’
Team Building for Success is your resource for building engaged employees and high performing teams. Our solutions go a step further by creating sustainable, positive changes in leadership behavior. Improving leadership results requires learning and applying new or different behaviors and approaches.