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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

No Management Mindset

No Management Mindset post image

All sort of no management approaches are hot these days. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. Self-organization, empowerment and autonomy are inherent parts of Agile and Lean approaches. If you distill the essence of these and bring them up in the hierarchy it means quite a challenge for traditional ways of managing teams.

Of course, few organizations are that far with their evolution and only handful, like Semco, Valve or (recently) Zappos, are really radical with no management. I’m not an orthodox though. I’m not going to draw a line that separates no management organizations from regular ones. I don’t see a point and I don’t care about labels anyway.

The important part here is mindset – understanding why you are changing the approach to management and what expect to achieve with that.

And honestly, I don’t expect us to see no management approach becoming a new trend in organizing companies, no matter how vocal its proponents are. There are a few reasons for that.

We are so strongly rooted in traditional approach to management that I don’t expect many would find it easy to change their mindset. And they don’t need to. We may take pretty much whatever reasonable organization’s success criteria you want. Then, basing on the criteria we’ll find the most successful companies in the world. I’m almost sure that the top ones would be those with pretty traditional management approach.

Of course statistics are against no management organization. I mean, there are only that many of them. However, if no management was so superior we should have loads of wildly successful followers. Sorry, that’s not what I see.

The reason why I don’t see a rapid adoption of no management is that it is damn hard to make it work. And it’s way harder to make it work at scale. I would say that fixing dysfunctional management of an organization without changing the whole approach to management as a whole is a task that is an order of magnitude easier than a transition to no management.

By the way, when we cease to have formalized management we flip one of systems thinking paradigms. In fact, no management means magnifying the fallacy of people versus system dichotomy. Suddenly we can’t just blame the system as everyone explicitly co-creates that system.

A simple example. It happens so often that people delegate decisions and responsibility at a workplace asking “can I…?” Obviously, each “yes” or “no” answer, besides addressing a question, sets a constraint. This is allowed here and that isn’t. By the way, that’s how we define system at our organizations.

What if there’s no definite answer? Or the only answer is that here are our high-level goals and everyone makes their own decisions so we get closer to achieving these goals? Everyone makes their own yes / no decisions and thus get involved in setting constraints. Everyone is, in fact, involved in defining and designing the system.

The interesting part is that all it takes to get there is management distributing their power across the whole team instead of executing it.

You don’t have to get rid of the management. You don’t have to become one of those hot no management organizations. It’s just a mindset change.

This is also a reason for a very limited adoption of no management approaches. A mindset change only sounds simple. It goes against almost everything that we’ve learned about leading teams. Usually it goes against team’s expectations too. Even more so when people visualize scenarios taken from Zappos or Valve or W.L. Gore.

There’s a good part too. If we are talking about mindset it means that it is applicable in all sorts of environments. You don’t have to be a full-blown no management organization to do this. You can push the limits pretty far with your team, even if you are a part of an organization that adopts more traditional way of managing teams.

All it takes is to give up on power while still taking responsibility. Would you dare?

in: software business, team management

1 comment… add one

  • Christopher Mahan March 3, 2014, 8:28 pm

    You wrote in your last paragraph: “All it takes is to give up on power while still taking responsibility.” I think it’s about delegating power rather than “giving it up”.

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