Gary Hamel, one of the world's most influential business and strategy thinkers, said it best in a recent Harvard Business Review article:
Give someone monarchlike authority, and sooner or later there will be a royal screwup. A related problem is that the most powerful managers are the ones furthest from frontline realities. All too often, decisions made on an Olympian peak prove to be unworkable on the ground.
Nothing ends up getting done, Hamel says, because there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Too many managers can also be a financial drain on a business. Hamel has an alternative to the old school business structure and its strict chain of command. He suggests a world without managers.
Imagine that for a sec. What would it be like if there weren't any managers? How would projects get finished if there wasn't someone to bark orders? Would there be chaos? Well, not at Morning Star, a large tomato processor near Sacramento, which ditched the old ways of labor division 20 years ago, says Hamel.
Get this, there are no bosses at Morning Star and workers manage themselves, signing a letter with their fellow workers that holds them accountable for meeting their own set goals, says Hamel. Workers love not being bossed around, saying they have more initiative and better judgement. However, not everyone is completely equal — some workers get paid more than others because they are seen as being more competent than others. There is, however, room for workers to grow and gain more responsibility.
Some workers, however, don't do well without a manager. The company, Hamel says, tends to lose workers who can't adapt to the managerless culture. Nevertheless, not having any managers seems to be paying off for Morning Star, whose revenues reached more than $700 million last year.
Hamel's example reminds us of something Matt Mullenweg, the founder of Wordpress, said at one of our soapbox talks:
You have to be able to let go if you're going to scale. That has been one of the hardest things for me to learn. For awhile, we would hire people but I would still try to do everything myself. It doesn't work. It's not fun for the person being hired. It's not fun for me. Eventually, how we got out of it is that we hired people that I knew were so much better than I was at whatever we hired them to do. Then it was easier for me to let go.
Which brings us to our own culture where team members are encouraged to take responsibility and manage themselves. Letting go and trusting employees plays an important role in building products. When you are surrounded by talented, passionate people, it would be a shame to hold them back and keep them under the heels of a manager.