In a recent HBS article, Jim Heskett presented some initial thoughts on the whole concept of self-management, where traditional management is removed and people essentially manage themselves as part of teams or “circles”. He cites many companies such as Taco Bell, Google and more recently Zappos.com, who have gone down this path with mixed success.
It’s probably safe to say that where good managers (or leaders) exist, things will go well and the traditional hierarchical structure cannot be argued with. However management comes at a significant cost and much of it is either top heavy, ineffective or simply not adding value. Mindful of this, there is an opportunity for a greater level of self-management certainly in lieu of poor or ineffective managers. Compounding this thought process are the millennials who are beginning to dominate the workplace. They are perceived as having more confidence and non-traditional work habits, and less concern about security and authority; all of which is consistent with more self-management.
One solution to this is to have fewer management dealing with more people but functioning as a coach rather than a traditional manager. Within this model lies the possibility of the coach / manager laying out the strategy but ultimately it being “up to the players on the field” to execute. A scoring system needs to be established and where performance is not up to par, there must be consequences that are fully understood. Though this is a model that we are more familiar with relative to sports, perhaps there is something to be garnered from it within organizations.
The key to be any great coach is having the interpersonal skills to optimize the talents and motivation of the team. Once you achieve this, then with a focus on execution, self-management can kick in, with team members taking responsibility, acting with authority and confidence, and ultimately being accountable to each other.
In conclusion, it is my belief that a hybrid must exit in that self-management can only function effectively in the presence of a coach, who provides the context (overall strategy) and has the ability to lead (communicate and motivate).