Can you manage without a manager?

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Work philosophy kind of got my way today. Is it possible to teach a team to work hard together without a leader or manager? The team is responsible for reaching the goals. The team is responsible for filing the reports. The team is responsible for training and getting the job done? Or will a team crumble without supervision? How will no manager impact results and productivity? Will they all slack? Does the team need incentives, or should intrinsic motivation be enough? I would love if I was redundant at work, and if I for some reason disappear, I would know that things would still be great.

Anybody want to join my philosophic corner?

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3 Comments on "Can you manage without a manager?"

  1. Frode Heimen | June 14, 2010 at 6:42 pm |

    Hi Andreas.
    Thank you for your thoughts. What if the group had rules about how they hire and fire? The group needs to agree. Reports can be made by anybody; anybody can divide tasks among the other. If the group fails, the group need to analyze what went wrong, and plan for the future. Everybody needs to be responsible and mature enough to pull this off. David Burkus refers to a company that can do it. Maybe it won’t work at any given company?

    David, do you know how the folks at W.L Gore are reacting to this? Does it work?

    It might be easier if a group can select a project leader from project to project?

    Andreas, I do believe that it could be done at our place (Andreas is a good friend and co-worker), but I think it could need a high level of discipline and drive. I see an interesting conversation appearing at work soon 🙂

    Andreas and David, thank you both for joining my small talk session.

    Cheers.

  2. Interesting idea. The folks at W.L. Gore have been working in a flat hierarchy for quite some time. However, this typically amounts to one person on the team rising to become manager for a project rather than being formally appointed. Actually working without a manager might be a little different.

  3. Andreas Lohne | June 13, 2010 at 10:09 pm |

    It’s an interesting thought, and one I’ve heard debated before in books, studies and various forums.
    But it’s a theory I fear it would be virtually impossible to test.

    In any social grouping you will start to see social roles develop. Some will try to take a leadership role, others will start searching for leadership. But it’s actually far more complex than that.
    We subconsciously all attempt to find a role that suits us in any social setting, and they way we usually find it is by identifying needs in a group that are not being met yet. And by filling this role, we change the dynamic of the entire group.

    And this is constantly happening. Roles are shifting and changing to suit the ever-changing needs and wants of the other members in a the group and based on your own ability to fill those needs.

    I guess that what I’m saying is that in any social setting leaders, or “managers”, would emerge. It’s linked to who we are as people. We crave stability and security, and find it within the “flock”. And within the flock there will always exist a hierarchy.
    So, maybe some of the needs in a working environment could be met in the absence of a manager. At least maybe temporarily. But there would be no basis for a stable company since the leader could constantly be challenged at every instance he made an unpopular decison. Which would lead to an uncertain hierarchy, and ultimately to unrest in the social group since people would not feel secure.

    To this I would add:
    A manager, who has successfully earned the respect of his employees, could be abscent for shorter periods of time because his spirit would still be alive in the social structure and the wish to please and maintain the quality of the work the manager inspires would drive the employees to thrive even in his abscence.
    But a manager who has failed to do this, and who has based his philosophy more on intimidation or bribes (meaning; immediate financial incentives to desired behaviour) or some other weak basis, would learn his team would fail in his abscence as his constant prescence would be necessary to maintain the acceptable level of quality.

    This is closely linked to the “official” and “unofficial” hierarchy in any social group. And in order for a manager to be truly effective, it is my belief he must maintain a strong position in both. He, or she, must naturally hold a position in the compabuny that warrants them having the authority to make certain decisons. But they must also be respected, or perhaps even admired, on the sole basis of their character as this will ensure loyalty and the subconscious will to constantly please the person that the employee has CHOSEN (Mark that word) as their leader.

    Anyway, that’s the kind of ideas a former Sociology student might come up with late one Sunday evening.

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