Image Credit: <cobaltpm.com

Image Credit: <cobaltpm.com>

…So Zappos recently announced a change to their management structure: They are getting rid of it. The company is instead instituting a holacracy, which is basically a system where decision making is made by self organizing teams as opposed to by traditional top down managers. 

I am skeptical about this approach: There are many reasons that self-.1. Did I just make up a word?directed/holacritic 1 workforces fail, perhaps most obviously because without a formal leadership structure in place it is difficult to hold people accountable. Most people that have ever been managers will tell you that it’s difficult enough to sit people down and take corrective action even when you’re the authority figure – it’s uncomfortable for all parties involved, and everyone responds to feedback differently (what turns one person’s performance around will send another into a tailspin).

…To this point, taking managers out of the equation magnifies the challenges associated with tackling individual performance issues by several factors. With no formal authority figures, poor performance may drag down group productivity and morale to untenable levels before issues finally bubble to the surface and are addressed. Further, with multiple people involved in the corrective action process resolving issues with tact becomes incrementally more difficult.

With that said, I’m not going to say that holacracy won’t work at Zappos, as it very well might. Every organization is different etc. Conversely, top down leadership structures exist in more companies than not for a reason: They work. Recent history is littered with examples of failed efforts at implementing self-directed work teams. Also, Google kind of settled the question of if managers add value or not back in 2008 or so: At a minimum, good managers keep turnover down and improve work satisfaction/engagement within their groups.

Still… that gets me thinking: What is it that makes a great manager a great manager? Google has some done some research on this and identified the eight attributes commonly seen in great managers at their company, but what are the makings of an exceptional manager at an oil refinery? A print media company? A social media firm? Does a workforces educational background and/or collective cultural legacy impact the efficacy of various management practices? If so, how? I look at Google’s list and think that things like “being a good coach” and “being a good communicator” would probably add value everywhere. But what about “empowering versus micromanaging”? Some people need to be micromanaged, right? Maybe not…

If we start with the premise that having managers is generally a good thing, what is the general blueprint of a great one?

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.