It’s often been popularized in management literature for decades, and there are companies that have been successful with the concept. Others, such as Zappos, went all in, but have since backed away. With the rise of digital tools and platforms that enable real-time and asynchronous collaboration, as well as no restrictions on members’ locations, we’re likely to see more confederations of self-organizing teams, versus structured companies.
It’s the ultimate employee experience.
After working for years as a programmer in dismal, soul-crushing workplaces, Matt K. Parker set out on a journey to “find organizations that eschew command-and-control dynamics for partnership and equality; that buck the trend toward disengagement and mistrust and replace it with joy, meaning, and fulfillment; that leverage the power of self-management and intrinsic motivation to scale their social and economic impact within the world.”
Parker accomplished exactly that in his latest book, A Radical Enterprise: Pioneering the Future of High-Performing Organizations. “Over the past few decades, a small but growing percentage of corporations have pioneered a new way of working founded on partnership and equality instead of domination and coercion,” he reports. A way of working where static dominator hierarchies, managers, and bureaucracies are jettisoned in favor of dynamic, self-managing, self-linking networks of teams.”
Parker reflects earlier works such as Jon Husband’s “wireacracy,” a technology-enabled organizing principle “that informs the ways that purposeful human activities and the structures in which they are contained is evolving from top-down direction and supervision to champion-and-channel … championing ideas and innovation, and channeling time, energy, authority and resources to testing those ideas and the possibilities for innovation carried in those ideas.”
Parker cites examples of organizations built on autonomous teams, including Morning Star, the world’s largest tomato processor, which maintains a “100% self-managing structure re-designed annually through ‘CLOUs’ (colleague letters of understanding).” There are zero managers or bosses, he says. “Instead of organizing work through a dominator hierarchy, the more than 4,000 colleagues start every year by meeting as equals, without any formal roles or titles, and crafting CLOUs. The CLOUs spell out how colleagues will collectively self-manage every aspect of the company that year, from day-to-day food processing to equipment purchasing and payroll. No levels of management. Just as they did in the outside world, the company’s colleagues (who formerly would have been called ‘employees’) would manage themselves as they moved through negotiated commitments to their colleagues and to the enterprise as a whole.”
The Biggest Artificial Intelligence (AI) Trends In 2022
In another example, TIM Group, a London-based fintech organization that provides trade ideas and investment recommendations through an online platform. “They organized as a self-managing network of autonomous teams, without managers or hierarchy, and they instituted a series of agreed-upon technology constraints.” Another example is Haufe-umantis AG, a collaboration and talent-management software company with 200 employees, which adapted agile methodologies that promote autonomous software development teams.
There are four key characteristics that shape an autonomous, team-oriented organization, Parker says:
Team autonomy: Radically collaborative organizations achieve superior levels of employee engagement and innovation because they promote complete autonomy. They “control the ‘how’ of their work,” Parker explains. They also “control the ‘where’ and the ‘when’ of their work. They decide whether they’re collocated or distributed. Whether they sit in an office, on a couch at home, or on the beach. They decide whether to synchronize schedules to enable real-time collaboration practices.” Importantly, radical collaborators “decide what type of work they’re interested in, what kind of career they want to have, and what they need from the organization in order to develop any and all necessary skills.”
Managerial devolution: The “devolution” of management means the hierarchy is broken down in favor of self-managing teams. “In fully devolved organizations, these networks of teams collectively self-manage the organization,” Radical collaborators even self-manage traditional managerial responsibilities such as “hiring, firing, and onboarding. They even self-manage the compensation process by rejecting coercive practices like performance evaluations.”
Deficiency gratification: This garbled term suggests autonomous team-driven enterprises need to put human needs first — security, autonomy, fairness, esteem, trust, and belongingness. This isn’t some feel-good arrangement, “it also feeds into a foundation of collective trust, with powerful downstream consequences for organizational efficacy.” There’s hard data to back this up, Parker says: a study shows that high levels of trust lead radically collaborative organizations “to exhibit 32x the risk-taking, 11x times the innovation, and 6x the business performance over their traditional hierarchical competitors.”
Candid vulnerability: There should be no airs in these new organizations. “Radical collaborators candidly share their underlying thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and assumptions, thereby making their thought processes vulnerable to collective examination, critique, and even invalidation. This, in turn, feeds into an overall organizational culture of learning and collaborative innovation.”
(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in Forbes. The original article can be found at https://www.forbes.com/sites/joemckendrick/2022/02/10/technology-paves-the-way-for-more-management-free-enterprises/?sh=76f14f8b1c41)