Why we don't have people managing other people
Tags: self organization
Take a few minutes to think about some of the actions you took to get out of your house today. Maybe setting your alarm clock last night; white top or stripy one; will I need an umbrella?, eggs or fruit for breakfast… Let’s go with both. Anyway, I think you get the picture. There were quite a few thoughts, actions and decisions here, and you probably did most of those on your own! Congratulations, you have managed to leave the house without supervision from another adult!There are also actions we might consider to be more complex: decide where to go on holidays, buy a car, a house?; change your job, do scuba diving, drive a car, invest money, make friends, take care of your health… At some point you might want to ask for advice from family and friends, ponder on the advantages/disadvantages of some of the options, or involve experts from areas you do not have an expertise on.
One of these days I was wondering: how do people manage to get a Christmas celebration (project) with a bunch of guest (stakeholders), with food, gifts (deliverables), on time and within budget without a Manager? That’s right: you are the manager - if not of the entire event, then at least some part of it: buy a gift? Or just showing up!
Some of these actions are simple, others are quite complex, and we can do those on our own or in collaboration with our close friends and family or the people and tools that exist in our environment.
So what is needed to have a ‘no managers’ work environment?
1. Act on what you want to see happening
Everything can be better (except butter, butter is perfect), and you probably have ideas to do just that: don’t wait for someone else to ‘read your mind’ and take action - that is little chance people around you can read your mind, at least I haven’t seen conclusive studies on mind reading. Is the hiring process too slow? Are you struggling with your communication tools? Do you think someone ought to say ‘that important’ thing to the client? The bottom line is this: total responsibility. Everyone in the company is responsible for everything that happens. There is no ‘that’s not my job’, unless you want to get a weird look and an appropriate response that puts you back in the responsibility seat. The truth is, things will change if someone takes a step, owns that responsibility, and brings the change to a level of execution that fits with the people around, and the purpose of the company - great discussions lead to amazing solutions. On the other hand, if you see someone doing/saying something you don’t agree with, speak up and say what’s on your mind. Maybe this will take you out of your comfort zone, but I’ve always found myself learning and growing in those situations.
2. This is not just about you
This is not a democracy. I have been known to say this often, and many times as a response to “How do you make decisions without managers?”. Decisions are made by the people that will be impacted by the decision, and supported by the most relevant information (this could include an expert’s input, from inside or outside the organisation). To clarify, let me tell you how decisions are not made: based on hierarchy. Simple stuff really; but I do get, this might not seem so simple to achieve, but time and time again, when decisions are made like this, these are more informed, more efficient and take into account details that would not have been considered otherwise. In my view, the democratic process of voting, hides a lot of information and plays in the social arena far too much. On the other hand, if people discuss their ideas and state their arguments, new ideas, thoughts and solutions arise. I’ve seen this happen, and the beauty of it, is those new ideas, would not have surfaced if we went for the voting process. You can obviously mix the two, and I also understand that for certain situations we can also chose voting for the sake of speed: for example in decisions of very low impact: skimmed milk or full fat? - but be aware that everything impacts on company culture, so choosing the type of milk to have in your office kitchen might create a little storm. Embrace discussion as a process that brings arguments to the surface and generates new ideas. The results are well worth it: people feel involved, listened and empowered.
3. Know your company
Once you know why your company exists, picture yourself driving your actions to fulfil that purpose. Imagine how everyone can contribute as well, and how you can also help others do this. If you have seen the Ted video How to start a movement, you know that it only takes a few people acting together, to get a bunch of people involved, and it is amazing what a group can achieve together. As we work with Agile Scrum, I’ve always found, one important aspect of it, being the fact that developers who code are also the ones who do the estimates for that code - I don’t believe there are benefits in having it detached as estimating other people’s work is much more difficult than doing it for the tasks we are experienced at. I believe the best people to drive and lead the day to day of a company, are the ones doing the day to day activities. And a coordinated, close to the ground with an added overview perspective, would be the ideal process moving forward. If you take a minute to remember the example of your own Christmas celebrations, or any other event organised by friends and/or family, you can picture how everyone used their best skills to contribute in some way, and how everything came together in the end. If people with different sets of skills collaborate as if they were living “real life” in the workplace, I believe the same can also be achieved.
As we travel through this ‘new’ road of “no managers”, we know that we will need some trial and error to move forward, and I feel lucky to work and live in an environment where mistakes are seen as learning tools. This alone, could be strong enough to provide the necessary freedom and dare! to dream about a workplace where work is meaningful for everyone.