I read this article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Who’s the Boss? There Isn’t One.” It talks about having a boss-less office.
On one hand, I get it. Reducing corporate hierarchy and bureaucracy can be a great thing for companies. Putting decision making in the hands of employees who directly deal with customers can be effective and efficient.
But going manager-less does have a few drawbacks. Many years ago, I was involved in a project to implement self-directed work teams. A group of us sat in a room for literally months talking about how to implement a manager-less environment where employees worked together on all aspects of the operation. After implementing the teams, we discovered two things:
- Someone ends up being the de facto boss. While a company might say, “We have no managers.”, the reality is someone ends up doing the job. They just aren’t being recognized for it. And eventually, they become resentful for taking on the job and not getting acknowledgement for it.
- Employees must be trained on how to manage themselves. Simply making the announcement, “There are no more managers. Make it work.”, is not sufficient. People need some tools – problem solving, conflict management, and change management to work effectively on their own.
There’s a fine line between removing managerial roadblocks and creating organizational anarchy.
Managers are being asked to assume different roles in today’s workplace. That doesn’t mean they aren’t necessary. While I can see managers spending less time solving problems for employees or directing an employee’s career path, I do see managers taking on the new role of being a facilitator of information.
Managers who are doing their job properly bring value to the organization. In fact, any employee who is doing their job properly should be adding value. If that’s not the case within your company, the answer isn’t to eliminate managers. It’s to hold them accountable for your expected results.
Image courtesy of Zen is Stupid2
Stephen Ross says
I think your first point is really key when discussing a workplace with no bosses. Due to the fast paced business environment, democracy in the workplace and egalitarianism among employees can sometimes cause unnecessary delays. However, I have heard of start-up companies like Valve that have been able to implement this model effectively. But that begs the question, can a company become too large to be run by the employees equally?
Sharlyn Lauby says
Thanks for the comment Stephen. I agree that the size of the organization can impact the decision making process. But I’m not sure that the size of the organization drives the decision to have management.
Even in a small company or startup, someone is the final decision maker. Being small might allow for more conversation and greater involvement in decisions.
Jennifer V. Miller says
You pose a great question in your post’s title. The WSJ article points out that even at Valve (the “bossless” company) someone emerges as the de-facto leader in many projects. This supports your point #1.
I think the notion of “no bosses” is something that appeals to people, but not for the right reasons. The thinking may be, “If we don’t have a ‘boss’ then there’s nobody to boss us around.” There can be a lack of accountability unless one’s peers are excellent at communicating expectations and holding people accountable.
Many times, people *can* work it out themselves and that’s what companies should be striving for, so I’m all for eliminating hierarchy and the bureaucracy that accompanies it.
However, there are times when it’s necessary to have a person who says “the buck stops here”.
Sharlyn Lauby says
Hi Jennifer. Thanks for the comment. Totally agree – it sounds great on paper.
I believe if companies really want to reduce the layers of hierarchy, they can. It takes giving employees some tools so they are equipped to figure stuff out on their own. I like to think of it as self-management. If we trained employees to be a little more self-managing, it could free up leaders to focus on more critical parts of their business.