Even the largest, most hierarchical organizations, like the military and global multinationals, are seeing the need to create practices of empowerment and distributed decision making that will keep the company nimble and innovating, and make the organization more resilient. Whether this ultimately gets to a “bossless” state of self-management for most companies is unlikely, but there is mounting evidence that the movement towards greater empowerment is both necessary and inevitable.
Hierarchy is a design element that does fit into many, but far from all enterprises. And where there are better alternatives the corresponding feedback loops must be designed with sufficient strength and rigor to more than offset the coherence that hierarchy could potentially provide.
Most observers who have written about holacracy and other types of self-managed organizations take an extreme position, either celebrating these “bossless,” “flat” environments for fostering flexibility and engagement or denouncing them as naive social experiments that ignore how things really get done. To gain a more accurate, balanced perspective, it is important to look beyond the buzzwords and examine why the forms have evolved and how they operate, both in the trenches and at the level of enterprise strategy and policy. That’s what’s done by the contributors of this brilliant article.