Management’s use-by date is nigh

There are fewer and fewer layers of management. Where will it stop? Could we, or should we, do away with the hierarchy altogether? Would that allow employees to be more creative and productive? Or would it lead to chaos because no one is in overall charge, and to lengthy decision making because of the constant need for consensus?

There are plenty of examples of self-managed teams to use as a model. (See, for example, the Theory to practice boxes Around sound learning on page 337 and From lines to cells and back again on pages 369-370 in the text.)

Certainly, whether they’re providing a service or making a product, people are committed, creative, energised and engaged in most self-managed teams (they have to be, or they’re kicked off the team) and they do a great job (they have to, or they’re kicked off the team). As management professor Adam Cobb points out, peer pressure means everyone is breathing down your back, not just one manager.

It’s true that things may happen more quickly when someone assigns roles and delegates tasks. But you don’t need a command-and-control boss to do that; the team itself can do it, through consensus or rotating leadership, for example. And someone needs to play the role of figurehead, liaising with other teams and suppliers, monitoring what’s going on and passing on important information. But a good team could probably organise that amongst themselves, too.

However, it must be said that not all employees have the high level of emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, self-understanding and technical skills to work effectively in self-managed teams. Most team members need help, organising and support, and that’s the role of the team leader-manager. And what about the tough stuff, like performance management? That’s when a boss might be better than a team, because when the whole team gets involved in performance management, it could feel like bullying.

So what use are managers? Perhaps the answer is: it depends on the situation and the industry and the level of manager. In some situations, for example in a crisis, someone needs to take charge. In some industries, particularly industries from the industrial economy, self-managed teams may not work, but in other industries, particularly those from the knowledge and agrarian economies, they can excel. (That means they’re probably becoming more viable in Australia.) And of course, senior managers will always be needed to set direction.

Managers–good managers, at least–don’t just give employees a ‘common enemy’. Good managers pull their weight. They step back when they can and let employees decide. They don’t micromanage but make sure people have what they need so they can get on with their jobs. Good managers create the right environment and then step back. Managers like that are valued and valuable to modern organisations.

Anyway, the buck has to stop somewhere.

Discussion questions

How well does your team operate when you’re not there? (Pat yourself on the back if it operates well in your absence; it probably doesn’t mean they don’t need you, but that they want to do well while you’re away so they don’t let you down and that they want to make you proud of them.

How secure do you think the profession of ‘manager’ is? Why would people in self-managed teams be more likely to be committed, creative, energised and engaged than people in traditional teams?

If you have read my blogs How to get top marks on your essays  and Setbacks as opportunities, you know that I’m trying out a particular writing format: thesis – antithesis – synthesis. I think it worked slightly better with Setbacks as opportunities but it still worked here. What do you think of this format as a way to write essays? I think it’s certainly a great way to clarify your thinking and dredge out knowledge you may not even have known you had.

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