In recent months we’ve seen more organisations opting to get rid of old, hierarchical company structures in favour of self-managing teams, with companies like Zappos endorsing it as the workplace model of the future.
While I agree that a workplace culture in which employees are valued equally is vital, (and something we very much embrace at Saberr) a semblance of organisational structure must be kept in place, with total holacracy offering a potentially dangerous alternative. What really needs questioning is not whether leadership roles should exist, but the nature of those roles and the way in which we manage our teams.
A good manager should be most concerned with figuring out how to get the best out of their team by letting team members do the work that plays to their individual skillsets. Similarly, it wouldn’t make sense for a good worker to be made a manager if that means they will stop using their most valued skills. Companies need to operate on a culture of trust, which starts with managers trusting their employees to do their work and inviting trust in return. Large companies might wish to follow in Google's footsteps by introducing semiannual performance reviews which allow employees to anonymously rate their managers.
The rise of the ‘accidental manager’
In the US, promoting managers with the right managerial skills has long been an essential part of the HR process. Yet in the UK, it’s a concept that fails to be given the weight it deserves. A large number of UK organisations often rely on less thoughtful reasons when making these decisions, such as an employee’s age or the length of time they’ve worked for said company. These are good gauges of employee loyalty, however they’re not an accurate indication of someone’s managerial potential. Bad managerial HR decisions are one of the top causes of attrition and low team performance, so it goes without saying that before these decisions are made, companies need to look more insightfully at whether an employee has the key competencies to get the best out of a team.
What makes a good leader?
It’s important that bosses blend into the team which they represent rather than rule from on high. Studies show that the most effective managers are transparent and open to feedback from their employees. Employees are also typically more receptive when they are given the opportunity to own their own projects rather than be micro-managed or confined by a job title with rigid requirements. Employees need to feel valued for what they bring to an organisation.
Nature vs nurture
While some people may claim to be natural-born leaders, this doesn’t mean that leadership skills can’t be taught. Quite the opposite: there is a growing market for digital tools that use data to help people hone and develop their leadership skills so they can better manage people of all different personality types - this element of adaptability is becoming more and more important as workplaces look to embrace the ‘gig economy’.
Management needs an overhaul, but holacracy isn’t a realistic solution. Companies should start by making more informed management decisions that are based on the context of the whole team. As more research is done into the science of workplace dynamics, companies are in the fortunate position of being able to foster managers who will inspire happy and high-performing teams, working alongside rather than above their colleagues. If we learned how to be better managers, we wouldn’t need to resort to a concept so radical as self-managing teams.