One of frequently mentioned management ideas these days is that we don’t need management. If I got a free beer every time I’ve heard the examples of W.L. Gore, Valve or GitHub and how we should act as they do I could stay drunk for weeks without needing to buy any alcohol. A common message is that if they can everyone can.
I don’t subscribe to that idea.
Well, being a manager myself that’s not really a surprise, isn’t it?
I mean I’m really impressed with what these companies do, especially W.L. Gore given its size. It doesn’t mean that I automatically think that it is the new management model that masses should adopt. I simply don’t treat is as the true north of management or leadership if you will.
First, such an approach is very contextual. You have to have a lot of right bits and pieces in place before it works. For the start it will fail miserably unless you have the right people on board and, let’s face it, most companies have way too many bad apples to make it work.
Second, scaling up a manager-free organization is a huge pain in the neck. This is why I respect so much W.L. Gore work.
Being a fan of evolution I also try to imagine how to become such an organization evolutionary. I guess I must be too dumb but in vast majority of companies it is beyond my imagination. Revolutions, on the other hand, have surprisingly crappy success rate so that’s not a feasible solution either.
So far you might have considered me as a skeptic.
Well, not really.
While I don’t think that the managerless approach is, or will be, for everyone there is a specific context where it is surprisingly easy to implement. If you run a small company, let’s say smaller than 30 people, there’s not that much of managerial work anyway. Unless you introduce tons of that crap, that is.
It just so happens that Lunar Logic is such a small company. When you think about small and stable size you can forget about scaling issue. It is much easier to find the right people too because you simply need fewer of them. While Valve needs few hundreds of them we’re perfectly fine with twenty-something. Besides, smaller teams generally tend to have fewer bad apples as everything, naturally, is more transparent. Everyone knows everyone else, sees others’ work, etc. There’s no place to hide.
Suddenly, the manager-free approach doesn’t seem so scary, does it?
It may be a hit for managers’ ego though.
I can hardly remember when I wasn’t a manager. Obviously there were countless occasions when I used my formal power to do what I believed was right. So yes, it took courage to intentionally strip myself off of power and just put myself in a row with everyone else. Not that I’m already done with that; it’s a gradual process. A nice thing is that it can be done in evolutionary fashion though.
While I still make salary and some other financial decisions, that’s basically it. The good part is that I’m forced to wear my manager’s hat very, very rarely. I spend the rest of my time fulfilling all the other roles I have which hopefully can be summarized as me helping others.
You know, all the fun stuff, like setting up daily conference calls with the clients, writing longish boring emails, keeping task boards up to date, solving mundane problems, etc. Typically, just being there and looking for ways to help the rest of the team doing their best. An interesting thing is it does feel damn good even if the tasks sound less-than-exciting. I help people to do their awesome job. What else could you ask for as a leader?
That’s why I can’t be happier when I witness others treating me just as a regular team member. It means we are closer to being a manager-free organization.
So while you shouldn’t expect me proposing the managerless office to everyone I definitely thing that this is something small, knowledge-based companies could try.
Would it work that easily if we were twice as big? I have no freaking idea. I mean we definitely aren’t yet where GitHub or Valve is. I don’t even know if we want to be there. If the company’s growth is a threat for the culture we grow and cultivate here, so much the worse for the growth.
And this basically summarizes why I think that the manager-free approach isn’t for majority. I think pretty few businesses would prefer to sacrifice growth just for the sake of preserving the culture.
By the way, do expect more on the subject soon.