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When nobody (and everybody) is the boss

The idea of the “Boss” – one central figure of control over an organization – is archaic and outdated. Human effort need not be overseen by a single person or group. Rather (according to this Management Innovation eXchange article by Polly LaBarre), it’s a matter of giving people personal responsibility and accountability. This leads to remarkable success without leadership, as proven out by the the examples LaBarre includes. Take, for instance, the case of Morning Star. One of the world’s largest tomato processors, it has no “traditional” leadership. Rather, it works off of the model of recognition and achievement. There aren’t job descriptions, no titles, and the money brought into the company is spent and utilized through a group of decisions made by over 400 peers – and it works great: If that sounds like chaos, at the center of the company’s design for work is a mechanism that produces a dynamic sort of order. It’s called the “Colleague Letter of Understanding” (or CLOU, pronounced “clew”), a contract in which each individual defines his or her personal mission (and how it relates to the organizational mission), work commitments, key activities, and success metrics–all negotiated with ten or twelve core colleagues (called CLOU colleagues). The CLOUs are available online to everyone in the company, they can be updated at will, and are embedded in a social network that includes a real-time feed of real-time performance data, CLOU colleague activities, and peer feedback. The end result, as explained in the article, is a dynamic peer-defined org chart that allows for a natural hierarchy. Nobody gets promoted and moves up in the organization – they instead grow in responsibility and compensation for that increased responsibility. Likewise, take the example of W.L.Gore’s CEO. Instead of being placed by a Board, she was chosen by popular vote. Peer review is as important to W.L.Gore as anything, and this process allowed for the preferred CEO to be chosen. Finally, look at the hiring process at Whole Foods: instead of a hiring manager making the decision on who is qualified, the very workers who work alongside the new hire make that call. As it turns out, the people who work side by side with new hires are much better at making a decision on who will be a better fit than any higher level management. Mind blown a little bit? Well, that’s to be expected – but consider how revolutionary your organisation could be if you begin to investigate how it’s possible to implement a “no boss” or “all boss” solution to your teams. Would it result in bedlam or innovation?

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