Monday, December 10, 2012

A world without managers?

Phil Haack feels good - very good - after a year at GitHub. He loves the fact that there are no managers, and wonders if this is the way of the future. He points to the super successful Steam as another IT example of no-managers, and also to Gore & Associates as an example of a large and established company doing the same.

Well, what are us manager types to think of this? Do our careers have a use-by date? Are our days numbered? Well, I wouldn't worry too much. For a start, these ideas are not new. Gore has been running things that way for over 30 years, and it hasn't really caught on. Why? Because it is really, really hard to do!

What about GitHub and Steam? How have they pulled it off? They are both high-margin, high-profile businesses. That is, they attract absolutely top-tier talent, and have the cash to compensate them. Obviously a group of super-smart, super-motivated, super-skilled people are able to get by with loose structures, and still achieve success.

But there is more to the story. Gore may not have "managers", but they still have leadership. Project teams form around "sponsors", who seem to combine project management with product management, though not traditional line management. Gore have also been forced to put in more structure at the upper levels as the company has expanded.

My point is not that GitHub/Steam/Gore are doing something wrong. On the contrary, I think it is very right - for their contexts. I also note that, though they may have abolished managers, they have not abolished leadership. Leadership has good currency, and is always in demand.


Chris said...

You make a good point about leadership and, from what I can tell, these anti-management companies have discovered that you can more easily tap into the leadership potential of your employees when you give them the opportunity to use that potential. For every manager-type position that gets added to an organization (be it product mgr, project mgr, or people mgr) you subsequently reduce everyone else's ability to contribute in those areas, reducing their autonomy and squashing their initiative.

The solution to a presumed lack of management is not more managers - it's utilizing and unleashing the managerial potential in everyone.

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