A World Without Managers: Learn What the Future of Work Looks Like

October 10, 2013 - 6 minute read - Posted by

Imagine an organization where no one has a boss. There are no job titles with  “manager” in them.  Actually, no one has a specific job description as employees get to negotiate their responsibilities with their peers. To accomplish their goals, everyone can spend the company’s money to acquire the tools needed for their work. You may ask “how does a company function without any managers or supervisors?” and “ Who is responsible for making decisions that can make or break the company?” The answer is self-management.

Self-management involves giving your employees the absolute freedom to be their own boss. Each employee is being held accountable to deliver the highest quality of work, as a manager would be a traditional setting. Companies such as Morning Star and Return Path have moved towards self-management as their main way to operate their businesses. Their success makes me truly believe that self-management is becoming the future of work.

What is the vision

The vision of a self-managing organization is simply all team members are self-managing professionals. They communicate and coordinate their responsibilities with coworkers, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders without directives from others. There is no need to have a layer of management for decision making and supervision. Each employee acts like their own manager. The whole organization is transparent. You know what each member of the organization is working on and you know what the end results should be.

How do employees know what to do

The company’s mission statement and vision is clear to all employees. Every team member is responsible to create their own objectives that are aligned with the company’s goals. The employees’ challenge is to achieve their goals – this involves getting their own resources, acquiring the right training and knowledge, coordinating schedules and workflows with other team members. You want employees to be driven by their goals and commitments, not by a manager.

How do you assign employees to the different teams

Teams are formed in an organic way. Employees choose the projects they know can make the most impact. Each team member knows what they are good at. Therefore, a self-managing company will not create defined roles or job descriptions. You do not fit people into boxes; you allow them to put their individual strengths to work. For example, at Github, all the projects are publicly shared. Each employee can then gravitate towards the projects they have the most passion for and can contribute the most. You pick a project because you are truly passionate about it, not because your manager assigns it to you.

Who makes all the decisions

Each individual makes their own decisions, keeping in mind that their end results is to achieve their objectives that are aligned with the company’s goals. Employees understand that it is their responsibility to make executive decisions that have consequences. Everyone in the team has a voice for suggestions, improvements, and feedback. Each team receives weekly and monthly updates on the different objectives’ progress that affect the outcome of the overall goals. Therefore, employees hold each other accountable. For example, if one employee has gone over the budget, the team has a meeting to provide feedback and suggestions on how to keep going with the project given the new constraint.

What are the advantages of being a self-managed organization

  • More teamwork – since there are no promotions involved, office politics and backstabbing behaviours drop significantly. Since the team is self-managed, you need the support of your coworkers to be successful.

  • Greater initiative – employees are proactive because they have the freedom to act. By giving them the freedom to create their own objectives and to be accountable for them, you expect high quality work in return. Less layer of management means quicker decision making and faster execution of plans.

  • Higher loyalty – employees act as their own managers and they have skin in the game. Being able to have a voice helps your employees be more engaged at the workplace. Also having the ability to challenge oneself and to pick what they do best, employees acquire mastery.

Managers become coaches. Their main role is to support their employees to reach their highest potential. Self-management helps companies save money and resources – you no longer have to pay managers to supervise the employees. You are paying them to be a self-managing professionals who are striving to make your organization be successful. These ROI are the tangible benefits. Remember that you are gaining very important benefits such as low turnover and high employee engagement, which ultimately result in higher productivity.

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