Less is not more. Better is More
Empowerment, self-organization, delegation, and many more similar buzzwords are associated with agility. The agile coaches may have more humane motives. However, from a “management standpoint,” directly or indirectly, the goal often is to explore how we can get the same work done, achieve the same objectives with the teams having less leadership and operating in a self-organized or self-managed way. From a cost perspective and effectiveness, a model that requires less management looks pretty logical.
It is also in line with the agile manifesto principle — Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
Legends like Steve Jobs also echoed something similar when he said —
It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.
The Pyramid Game
And so we see, especially in the Christmas and holiday season, from boards to portfolios, from programs to projects, leadership is reshuffling the cards to strive for leaner or somewhat less management eventually. How can we get the same thing done with fewer managers? I often refer to this as the pyramid game — the one who builds the leanest pyramid that doesn’t fall gets the prize :)
However, is the problem always about numbers? Will having fewer managers or giving the teams more autonomy solve the issues and make the overall structure more effective?
Are we solving the right problem?
A significant client I once worked with reshuffled the entire organization structure, firing some leaders, replacing some, and bringing in some new — a typical formula for playing the pyramid game. However, was senior leadership their problem? It was, but it was only part of the problem. The real challenge was their middle management and experts, who were really off the mark from where they were supposed to be. And because an organization has to run the current projects and keep the lights on, no one touched this layer, and the inefficiency continued.
The teams did not have a culture of taking ownership and accountability, and just bringing in new leadership or reducing some layers of management would not solve the real challenge. Also, the new administration that came in by reshuffling was no different than the ones they replaced. So practically nothing happened.
Better is more
What was needed in this situation and many more is better management. The need of the hour was a management that can build a culture and environment for teams to be self-organized and self-managed. Without that, reducing management layers would be a whitewash and achieve nothing.
The road to less management is via better management, not just cutting numbers or playing the pyramid restructuring game. Less is not more. Better is more.