Last week, one of my must-read bloggers, Harold Jarche
published a great post titled, “A
world without bosses.” Here’s the opening paragraph of a post that you
should read in its entirety.
“Can your organization work without bosses? In the documentary, Ban the Boss
(one hour BBC video) Paul Thomas shows that most organizations can run just fine
without bosses, or at least without traditional, hierarchical bosses who tell
workers what to do.”
Harold is right, your organization and most organizations can probably be
reconstituted to “run just fine” without traditional bosses. “Traditional” in
the sense I’m using it here is a boss with a permanent position, selected by
people higher on the org chart, and tasked primarily with overseeing the work of
a team. The challenge is to get from where we are to something better Here are
some thoughts on that.
There are no perfect systems. Whatever you wind up with will
have interpersonal conflict, poor performance, and communications problems. The
problems will be different and, hopefully, less destructive.
There is no perfect, planned-in-advance-and-smoothly-executed way of
getting from where we are to where we want to go. In fact, we’ll
probably wind up with something that no one today imagines in its entirety
You can eliminate the traditional boss, but you can’t eliminate the
functions that boss is supposed to perform. Communication between team
members and between teams must still happen. Work needs to be evaluated, people
need to be trained and coached, discipline needs to be delivered when required,
and decisions have to be made. There are no organic reasons that you need a boss
for any or all of them, but you do need to work out methods.
We have some ideas about what the “world with fewer bosses” will
probably look like. Work groups will probably be smaller and more
self-governing. The people who do the work will probably have more of a say in
selecting who oversees it. We see those things in some workplaces already such
as W. L. Gore and Semco, but also at what look like more traditional
manufacturing companies such General Cable Corp. and Nucor.
There are also some things that are typical of “less bosses”
workplaces today, that may or may not be part of the future in most
workplaces. Most of the current models are almost tribal, rather than
industrial. That can work, but it may run afoul of current labor laws or prove
difficult to scale.
And there are some things we know need changing, but for which I
don’t see any dominant models yet. Will there be permanent bosses at
all, or will the role rotate? It’s likely that different situations will produce
different answers. How will we make the move to judging work on a more
team-based and less individual basis?
We are in for some big changes in the next few decades. I’m
guessing the kind of changes Harold and I are talking about will take at least
forty years to become the norm. So what are you doing in the meantime to make
Boss’s Bottom Line
No matter what happens in the future, your job today is to help your team and
your team members succeed.