You hear a lot of buzz around the tasks of middle management in an agile or teal organisation. Indeed a lot of management task can be shifted to the self-organising teams, so what is left for the managers to do?
Person = Resource
If, like me, you have been working in a hierarchic or top-down organisation for a long time, it can be difficult to switch gradually to a teal organisation. You are used to receive orders from above and receive targets and milestones and impose them onto your people. People above you have spent a lot of time and effort in workshops and meetings to come up with a valuable five-year strategy and have set out the lines of the company for a longer term: budget, scope and timing is fixed. You are ensured that the teams themselves do not have time to do this, since they are under pressure to reach the goals and targets set and report to you about the progress. They can not understand the whole picture, the organisation is simply to complex for this. Most of them are even not interested to do more than what they are supposed to do.
So your major task is to measure progress against the plan and report this to senior management and other stakeholders. You even have perhaps a good relation with your people, but you only let people decide and think within the safe borders of the targets set upfront. In the end you are held responsible to meet your targets so the only way to reach them is to ensure your teams do the same. So you cannot always play mister nice guy. You are professional, accurate, perfectionist and can be tough when needed. When you reach the targets and goals set, you are rewarded, if not you are the scapegoat and will make sure next year somebody else will be the scapegoat.
The same pattern applies to senior management who are responsible for maximizing profit for the shareholders. This command and control model sees each person as a resource to realise the goals set upfront.
Starting to change
If the CEO, any other natural leader or the founder decides to shift the people to be more self-organising, more human and adaptive to change, this can only work if all the shareholders agree. If not they will take over control as soon as there is a negative trend in the market share or profit of the company.
Simply said, you will have people that will leave and other that will stay.
Those who want to leave
Some managers will be reluctant to leave their office and chair. So it is important to talk to these managers in a honest and open way.
As a manager you have to make up your mind whether you want to adapt to the new philosophy or leave the company. Although leaving a company is never easy, be honest with yourself and ask yourself whether you could adhere to this new approach. If not, it is better for you to search for another challenge. The reason why you adapted the command and control model is because you were afraid to react or to let go, so you might also feel afraid to leave.
It does not make any sense to impose the new approach to people, since that is exactly violating one of the major values of teal organisations. Otherwise you become paternalistic and we see nowadays in Minor Asia and Africa the results of that. As a company you should also be honest with yourself and follow your values. Give people time to leave, help them to find a job better suited for them and reward them for the good work they have been doing all those years.
Those who stay
As it is not motivating to follow orders from above for team members, managers might also have felt uncomfortable in their chair. Simply checking the plan against the actual work can be quite boring and kills any creativity. It is hard to think out-of-the-box when the box is closed and obscure from the start. Deep in you there was a voice saying you did not like that approach, but you were afraid to loose your job if you would oppose to much.
You can now fill up your time with hopefully more fruitful and self-complacent tasks: measuring if the product satisfies the customers, understand the customer current and future needs, adapt the product line if needed, reprioritise the product plan regularly, refine the needed budget, listen to people, motivate and coach people, make them think out-of-the-box, encourage their creativity, give them space to experiment, fail and learn, allow them to chase their dreams and be themselves.
As each team member has her strengths and weaknesses, the same applies for the managers currently in place. In stead off executing all management and HR tasks, they should focus on the things they are good in and self-confident, so reinforcing the strength of the teams and the organisation. Give them time to change and do not expect a big bang. If you take the power of hiring, dismissing, rewarding or punishing people away from the manager and bring it to the teams, managers wil really need to (as all team members) take up their responsibility and ensure they use their skills and talents to help the people and by doing so also allowing the organisation to grow in an organic way.
If you stay in the company for other reasons (afraid of losing their job, reluctant to search for a new job) you will gradually become aware yourself that you do not fit anymore. You might be confronted with the remarks of your colleagues and decide to leave. In the worse case your colleagues will ask you to leave, for your own, theirs and the company’s sake.