Tactical Tuesday: Confessions of a company without managers (1 year later)

Fitzii, a Canadian software business, made quite a bold move a year ago. They eliminated all management responsibilities within the team. No more bosses, no more top down decisions and no more pointing fingers. Every person working for the firm became responsible for any problem or opportunity they saw. In other words, every person became accountable for the company’s overall success.

After six months of self-management Fitzii published an article with the opinion of people working at Fitzii. Every positive and negative reaction to self-management was published. Overall there were a lot more good and even amazing reactions then there were negative ones.

Now, after a year of being a company without a manager, Fitzii asked their team the most common questions from people who are curious about working without company managers. Here is a summary.

What has been the business value of self-management?

This is a tough question to answer, because Fitzii went all in with self-management and there wasn’t any part of the company that remained “managed”. This makes it impossible to make a comparison between the 2 styles. Because Fitzii is a young, growing firm, they have no data from before and after the transition.

The only way to answer this question correctly is to point to the things that are clearly different and improved since they started with self-management. The biggest difference definitely is the change in quality of their decision making. Ideas have a chance to surface and are considered deliberate. Everyone is free to contribute to decisions in the best way they can. This means the big decisions are more widely spread and nuanced, resulting in fewer less biased, bad calls and more balanced, well-reasoned decisions.

Fitzii also found that self-management has been a boost for the continuous improvement of our people and offerings. Everyone gets more feedback from a wider variety of different sources. More feedback means more positive growth and improvement in skills.

Another benefit of self-management is the ability to attract intelligent, young people to come and work for them. The attraction of self-management surely has something to do with this benefit. A last improvement is the fact people working at Fitzii are more engaged. When managers are removed, each person is responsible for their own role design and engagement. This makes the employees happier at work.

How have you most grown or benefited from self-management?

The first benefit is you can bring your “whole-self” to work. You don’t need to pretend to be someone you aren’t. Everyone feels comfortable to be themselves at work. Not being able to be yourself at work turns out to be mentally draining. When you make genuine connections with your colleagues and know they appreciate you for being you, the relationships on the work floor catapult.

The other big benefit comes from self-created role design. The level to which an employee enjoys their tasks is the most powerful driver of motivation and performance. In a self-management structure it is the task of every person to check what has to be done in the company and match their role in what they enjoy most in doing and probably are best at doing.  This gives people a lot of opportunities that they aren’t able to get elsewhere. This really motivates people to work harder and more precise.

What are the hardest things about self-management?

A first aspect is the responsibility that comes with it. When you see something that can be changed for the better or that you like to change, you’ll have to bring it up. Ultimate responsibility comes with all the freedom you have inside the firm.

A second factor is the communication between departments. Everyone is working hard on their ideas or tasks but there needs to be more communication about what everyone is doing and make sure that everyone is working towards achieving the same goals.

The last one was the fact everyone had to relearn how Fitzii worked and it was a challenge to deal with the short term negative performance. There most certain were times when the transition impacted their ability to achieve their goals. However, because they stuck to their strategy of self-management, they now deliver work of a much higher level.

What was the biggest mistake that was made?

There definitely were made some smaller mistakes and bumps on the road for example on the bigger projects were a single decision taker wasn’t appointed. This meant sometimes not enough got done. It is really important that someone is accountable for a decision that’s worth making.

Halfway the year Fitzii realised that with no clear leadership roles, they had fallen off in their communications with the parent company, who had been used to having regular dialogue with the former managers. Like everything else, this is simply a task that needs to be done, so a monthly meeting with assigned roles was created.

What advice would be given to other organizations?

First off, implementing self-management isn’t like flipping a switch. Expect this transition will be months of work to go through. It’s an advantage to be a smaller company (+- 10 people), most of the time these function with quite a bit of self-management already. This leads to a smoother transition during which you’ll get to know your policies and the small bumps on the road will have a smaller impact.

You also need to focus on having clearly articulated strategies, plans, and roles that engender clarity, purposeful work and decision-making. And it’s critical to also build a framework and expectation for feedback.

And last but not least, your team has to be into it to be successful at self-management.

Read the full article here.

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