As some tech firms dispense with bosses, is there a future for managerless companies?


Managerless organisations are already part of the corporate landscape. Valve, a highly successful video games developer, operates without any formal hierarchy. There are no job titles, and employees decide each other’s pay. This is not a new system at Valve. It has been in operation for several years, and during this period the company has gone from strength to strength. But is this model limited to wacky tech companies? Arguably not. The online shoe retailer Zappos recently announced plans to become a “holacracy” – a self-governing system without any job titles or managers. It is, however, important to draw a distinction between being managerless and managementless. There may be a reduced need for managers, but the need for management as a distributed and democratic activity will remain. In this regard, we might expect the managerless organisations of the future to more closely resemble social movements than traditional corporations. Cliff Oswick is professor of organisation theory at Cass Business School.


Management is not about to disappear. As long as decisions need to be taken to steer companies and business units, there will be two choices: endless meetings, or assigning the decision to a boss. Think of Apple’s decision to introduce the iPhone in 2007. From 2004, it had to decide where to focus its resources. A new TV? A tablet computer? Or a phone? Making such a decision without a boss is extremely hard. It involves multiple units, from design to sales, and means changing the jobs of thousands of people. Making such a decision by committee would involve endless lobbying and politicking. Even some of the practices that seem most rigid and bureaucratic, such as endless approval chains for new projects, often make sense. Rather than eliminating management, companies should work on ensuring that promotions are made on merit and eliminate politicking, preening and credit-hogging throughout. Luis Garicano is professor of economics and strategy at the London School of Economics.