Is It Time to Let Your Management Team Go?

If it works for AngelList, Medium and Zappos, could it work for you?

By Romy Misra (Sr. Director of Product, Visually)

A new trend is emerging in companies in Silicon valley: removing bosses. We’ve seen it implemented before and successfully in Valve, a 400-person company that has no managers and where people choose what they can work on. AngelList operates well with 24 employees and no managers. Finally, Medium adopted Holacracy successfully with 90 people and Zappos followed suit as well.

Before we dive into how this flat structure can work, let’s clarify that removing bosses doesn’t mean removing company structure. Rather, organizations without bosses are often thoughtfully structured to accommodate scenarios where otherwise managers would take over.

Companies without managers usually find innovative ways to figure out how to handle duties typically delegated to managers such as compensation, performance reviews, dismissals and information flows within the company. AngelList even provides a guide for how to handle the scenario when your peers try to manage you.

Removing bosses requires a great deal of thought and investment in time and can only work if you find the right kind of people who will suit the structure. Finally, new structures can only succeed when the founding team — especially the CEO — believes in the model, truly champions its value and will make sure it succeeds.

Still aren’t convinced this type of structure could work for your company? Here are three reasons that removing the managerial structure could mean a happier, more productive and most efficient company culture and organization.

1. Autonomy and Privacy

To function best, employees need both sufficient autonomy and privacy, according to Prof. Ethan Bernstein from Harvard Business School. Autonomy is necessary because employees don’t like being told what to do, and privacy is necessary because employees don’t like feeling as if they’re being watched over.

Organizations that follow traditional management usually try a technique of “management by objective” where they give people a goal, then let them function with a certain level of autonomy within that goal. For instance a “manager” might say: “Here’s a sales target. Now you figure out how to achieve it.”

New management structures take both autonomy and privacy to a completely different level. Employees can decide what they want to work on and which circle to join to best leverage their talents. AngelList employees get to decide which projects they want to work on as long as it fits in the mission of the company. Such levels of  autonomy often result  in a more fulfilling workplace.

2. Distributed Decision Making

Unlike traditional management organizations where the most important decisions are made by a few at the top who decide where the company is going, decision making in these organizations can come from anywhere.

The premise with the new management models is simple. If you’re working on a project, you make the decisions since you’re the most familiar with the problem. Different structures have different ways of doing this. AngelList calls it a “one person startup” model; everyone decides what projects they will work on. Buffer makes it work by coupling decisions with an advice model where employees can make the decisions, but must take advice from their colleagues. At Medium, many circles have a defined decision maker role who may or may not be the actual head of the circle. In a manger-less organization, decisions, ideas and innovation can come from anyone.

3. Wholeness

This is subtle yet powerful concept. Frederic Laloux, author of re-inventing organizations, has done extensive research surrounding it, illustrating that employees show up more “whole” and bring themselves more fully to work in newer, less conventional management structures.

According to Laloux, in traditional companies most employees tend to bring a certain dimension of themselves that society recognizes as their “professional self.” In other words, they bring what they think is acceptable at work. He found that in traditional organizations, people show up with one sixteenth of their passion and energy. Newer structures consciously figure out how to foster an environment that invites their employees to be authentic and feel safe. As a result, organizations with newer structures have employees that bring forth levels of unprecedented energy, passion and creativity.

There’s a new change happening in the way organizations are structured that’s yielding positive results. Still, no-management still a fairly untested concept. So if you’re thinking of adopting it yourself, take time to understand what would really work for your company and be prepared to commit to it. There will undoubtedly be some challenges apart from a large investment of time and effort. But if it works well, you’re likely to create  a special organization and a culture with a more fulfilled employees and heightened productivity.


About the guest blogger: Romy Misra is currently the Sr. Director of Product at Visually. In the past she was responsible for building and scaling the operations and analytics teams.