Some people dream of being the boss. But what if your workplace had no boss at all? No job titles, no hierarchy of any sort? Would it crumble into anarchy or would it find new, even better ways to get things done?
Some who believe they can live without bosses are putting their stock into the management system known as holacracy. Companies that operate under its principles are run co-operatively by title-less employees who answer only to each other as they work out the best way to run things.
The system eliminates bosses, said Tom Thomison, one of the founders of the U.S.-based consultancy Holacracy One.
“Not the individual boss as a person but the whole concept of having a boss – having a ruler, having someone tell you what to do,” said Thomison during a recent interview with guest host Piya Chattopadhyay on CBC’s The Current. “Holacracy changes all that fundamentally and gives everyone a voice.”
Late last year online shoe and clothing giant Zappos announced it is embracing holacracy. It is also practised on a smaller scale at Toronto-based Precision Nutrition, notes its Phil Caravaggio, who is sometimes known as the CEO.
“In the outside world we use whatever title will get the job done,” said Caravaggio. “Inside we have roles that clearly and accurately describe the work I do.”
Jim Fisher, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Business, says some companies have had great success by either dropping or dialling down hierarchies, including W.L. Gore & Associates – maker of Gore-Tex – and Google.
Though it has a recognizable corporate structure, the search giant is well-known for giving its people latitude to experiment and self-manage a significant amount of their time.
A common element across all such companies are agreed-upon rules that help keep everyone on course.
“Holacracy may have something going for it,” said Fisher. “But what it’s really getting at, in a way, is what’s hidden within companies like Google or W.L. Gore. That what looks from the outside like chaos and disorder actually has to be very, very structured.”