Imagine your company had no bosses

21. Januar 2022

By Stephan Breitfeld 

There is only one way a successful company can function: a boss at the top, employees at the bottom – hierarchy defines success! Is that so? Well, think again.

Have you heard of “holacracy”? A model of self-management that defies hierarchy! Instead, there are teams of individuals, who collectively define and assign roles to accomplish work. There is no boss, there are only circles of individuals with roles. Leadership is therefore distributed among the roles, rather than individuals, and as the goals and the environment change, responsibilities and roles change too. Shatter the hierarchy, your employees are now in charge! Sounds like the communist revolution back in the days. Is that something that can revolutionize the workplace though? Let’s see. 

Getting rid of hierarchies

Holacracy implies flat hierarchy, where employees are divided in circles working on a certain task or subject. As new tasks and goals emerge, the structure adapts, since the circles are expected to rearrange themselves accordingly, be it new developments in the market or new visions of clients. It’s like constantly being in a fluid project team or a task force specializing on a specific issue in a traditional organization. It could definitely be very efficient and flexible when it comes to solving problems within a limited timeframe as well as maintaining high levels of agility and adaptability to new challenges. Employees make decisions by themselves, they make suggestions – pure freedom, as long as everyone within a circle agrees. Employees diversify their expertise; they feel themselves empowered. Win-win for everyone!

It’s in the constitution!

But wait a minute, how do those circles organize themselves?! There is a constitution, ratified by all members of the team. It doesn’t say how employees should perform their tasks though. Instead, it explains how circles should form and operate, how roles and tasks are assigned and identified, where the boundaries of every circle are and how they interact.

Can it work?

On the other hand, it becomes difficult to coordinate efforts at scale, says Andy Doyle, head of operations at a social media company called Medium, which recently dropped holacracy. It’s hard enough to manage an enterprise in a traditional way, but when it comes to implementing self-management on the biggest scale to determine what should be done, how it should be done and how employees should be rewarded for it – chaos is imminent in some environments. The concept can work really well for certain parts of a company but maybe not for all of them.

In any case, one is quite certain: there is no such thing as “one size fits all”. The wisest way is always to act in accordance with the climate within a company, its business model and its goals. Some prefer more the autonomy of a “bossless” (like Harvard Business Review elegantly put it) work environment, while others thrive under clear and strict supervision. Finding a compromise somewhere in-between is another option: a traditional model with elements of self-organization. Who knows, maybe this is where the future lies. And the key aspect for me obviously is: What kind of employees fit in these business models, and what kind of leadership does it need to make this structure work? Get in touch and let’s discuss!

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