You can eliminate the bosses, but

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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 things better?

Boss's Bottom Line

No matter what happens in the future, your job today is to help your team and your team members succeed.

Wally's Working Supervisor's Support Kit is a collection of information and tools to help working supervisors do a better job. It's based on what Wally's learned in over twenty years of supervisory skills training. Click here to check it out.



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  • 1/17/2012 10:29 AM Laura Schroeder wrote:
    Strictly personally, I'd rather have a good boss that helps me and gives me constructive feedback than no boss at all... which either means my need for validation is stronger than my need for independence or that I'm a herd animal. Then again, I'd rather have no boss than a bad boss (I mean, who wouldn't?). I guess it depends on the boss.

    Hey, I wonder if I'm onto something here...
    Reply to this
    1. 1/17/2012 4:21 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for sharing that, Laura. I think that's a fairly common opinion. The key is that boss needs to be good.

      Reply to this
  • 1/17/2012 10:33 AM Christine Baese wrote:
    As work is increasingly done by independent contractors and third parties, this has to be true. The highest quality contractors aren't going to be content to work for ineffective leaders because not only will those paychecks depend on the quality of that work, but future ones with other organizations as well.
    Reply to this
    1. 1/17/2012 4:22 PM Wally Bock wrote:
      Good points, Christine. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

      Reply to this
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