As a manager, I sometimes think it would be better if I didn't exist. Well, speaking only figuratively, of course. I believe that sometimes it would be better if people didn't have a manager to sort things out for them. Having a manager makes people passive and dumb. Or to put it in another way: some managers make people passive and dumb!
Last week I was at the Agile Open Europe conference. The conference followed the Open Space principes: no manager, no schedule, no scope. Only 30 intelligent people, a timebox of two days, three rooms, some sticky notes, and a rubber chicken. It was the most interesting conference I have attended in years.
No Manager At the start of the conference, having no manager, scope or schedule, the participants immediately started planning the sessions amongst themselves. Within 15 minutes the agenda was full of interesting presentations and discussions. During the two following days, sessions were regularly rescheduled when the need arose. (Or not, when some of us objected). And the sessions themselves self-organized into thought-provoking and useful discussions. When people made too much noise, others silenced them. When a session lasted too long, some broke it off. When people strayed from a subject, we intervened. (Or not, when we liked the new subject even better.) Everyone knew there was no manager, and therefore we felt obliged to think and act. And I saw several innovative ideas for the use of a rubber chicken.
The Lack of Management Forces People to Think and Act
The principle of self-organization behind the Open Space concept makes people active and smart. There's simply no alternative when there's no manager to turn to.
Help, Manage Us! While I was enjoying myself at this conference, I checked my email and saw that some employees in my organization requested my presence (as their manager) to solve some planning issues. They encountered a problem with some conflicting interests, and wanted my input to solve the issue. My first thought that I would email them back, telling them I was tempted to stay away until they had figured out a solution among themselves. I simply don't want to be the kind of manager that makes decisions where people can also do that together, without me.
Management Make People Passive and Dumb
However, neither did I want to leave them to their own devices, because I also don't want to be perceived as someone who doesn't care about other people's problems. So, I returned from the conference with the most appropriate solution I could imagine: