Job adverts often pay lip service to terms such as “must be proactive”, or “self motivated” and various other platitudes. Yet many organizations will fight vigorously to stamp out such rebellious and subversive behaviour from their new recruits once they are in place: mindless process, layers upon layers of middle management, hand-overs, sign-offs and a suspiciousness towards anyone who asks “stupid” questions are the norm rather than the exception.
Clearly this is bad, but then what is the right amount of managers and management? The answer to me is simple: “Managers of One”. Or in other words, “no managers” (though you may still have “leaders” and people responsible for removing impediments and making sure people know what others might be doing or have previously done that might affect them).
Managers of One means that every person is cross-skilled enough and a good enough communicator to know what they should be doing and spontaneously collaborate with other Managers of One towards an end goal.
Process and Management spells “Failure”
Process is something that is needed when you have the wrong people and/or lack the clarity of purpose as to what the end result is that a group should be working towards.
Management is something you need when people are not independent enough to think critically and not good enough to collaborate effectively around a problem on their own.
The Silver Bullet(tm): Great People and Clarity of Purpose
When you have good people with the right skill sets, people who are able to think independently and collaborate effectively with other people, and combine it with a clarity of purpose as to what the end result they are working towards is, magic things start to happen. They start to spontaneously organize around the problem (I think it’s called “self organizing teams” in Agile parlour..). They start to work towards the end goal at a pace and level of productivity that old, staid organizations would think was impossible.
This doesn’t mean we should forget about (proven) best practices, but they are secondary to great people and clarity of purpose.
For now though, we are probably stuck with some level of management and process. Why? Because there simply aren’t enough great people to go around, and unless you are starting a new company, there are a lot of “legacy” people and culture in place that is hard to get rid off.
Though if you’re really, really lucky, you might work in a place collaboration is promoted above command & control and where managers understand their job is to clear your path and get out of the way.