little girl dressed as wonder woman walking through grass
PHOTO: Gabriela Braga

If the studios are looking for new characters for their next blockbuster superhero movie, I submit the “Anti-Manager” for their consideration.

It may sound like a villain’s moniker, but the anti-manager is the hero to enterprises striving to become more agile by turning away from top-down, centralized structures and toward confederacies of tiny, autonomous micro-enterprises. They want to overturn the traditional hierarchy of a “boss” and suffocating layers of middle management above siloed teams of subordinates. Some of the world’s largest companies including Amazon are embracing this approach of smaller teams and groups operating within very flat organizational structures.

The anti-manager plays a critical role in making that transformation happen, by serving as the organizer who supports and serves, rather than commands and controls. Just as importantly, the anti-manager facilitates employees becoming stakeholders in the larger good of the company.

Agile Awakening

A majority of organizations surveyed by CA Technologies stated that embarking on the agile journey is necessary to their long-term growth and success. Three-quarters of the almost 1,300 IT and business leaders CA polled believed adopting an agile methodology can play a crucial role in delivering the right products and services, accelerating decision-making and speed to market, and improving the customer experience.

Respondents also believed the entire enterprise must embrace agile practices, with 78% believing their organizations are benefiting from (or could benefit from) agile working across their companies. Those organizations the CA report labels as “Agility Masters” — those it deemed as having successfully leveraged agile throughout their companies — reported 60% higher revenue and profit growth than the rest of the organizations surveyed.

Related Article: Does Your Organization Really 'Get' Agile?

The Benefits of a Decentralized Management Model

Implementing agile requires taking a different approach, one where the anti-manager clears the way for individuals to make decisions from traditional decision process models. This fosters a transparent culture and way of working, and ensures everyone understands their roles and responsibilities.

In this new decentralized management model, power resides in the regional departments on a company’s front lines, which can have a potent effect. Managers can change direction without having to wait for word from on high, allowing for quick reactions that could mean the difference between success and failure. Employees are motivated when they believe they have a say in the direction of the organization. The resulting benefits include:

  • Increased creativity and out-of-the-box thinking: Greater innovation is one of the clearest advantages of collaborative working. It can be fostered by bringing together people with complementary or even contrasting skills and engaging them in activities, such as brainstorming solutions to an issue facing the project. With some guidance and a solid frame of context, ideas from marketers, product designers, programmers, marketers and accountants can be blended together to solve problems that one department on their own would have had trouble with.
  • More flexibility in project direction: When a team is aware of and embraces the variety of skills and opinions that it comprises, it improves its ability to change direction and adapt to situations. A truly collaborative workplace will engender mutual respect among employees who support following a new path if the consensus is that’s the best thing for the project.
  • New learning opportunities: When a team is engaged in collaborative working, they are exposed to skills which lie outside of their own education or training. Cross collaboration can also pique the interest of team members to pursue learning possibilities in a new field which will enhance their skill set and improve their worth to the organization.
  • Higher productivity levels: Creating a sense of teamwork and building bonds encourages team members to work for the collective rather than just themselves. This can inspire increased engagement with work to make sure they don’t let the team down.

Employees working to their full potential are more likely to generate innovative ideas, and they’ll probably be happier at work as well. That boosts the company’s bottom line: research links more satisfied workers to more satisfied customers

Additionally, for companies in highly-regulated industries, moving to a decentralized management model can help strengthen their compliance postures. A Thomson Reuters survey of over 800 compliance professionals working in financial services companies found that the ever-increasing regulatory burden is spreading resources thin, making it more important than ever to optimize resources to efficiently build teams, track resources and assign staff. The survey’s authors noted that: “As the amount of regulatory information that firms have to handle continues to grow, compliance teams are showing signs that resource constraints are limiting their ability to perform vital compliance functions, and allocate compliance resources effectively.” 

The anti-manager can facilitate the collaboration among all key stakeholders to create a project plan, and establish a timeline complete with milestones, budgets, due dates, deliverables and interdependencies. From there, they can assign resources based on skill set and availability, easily monitor and report on progress, and efficiently organize, retrieve and share documents — all so that efficiently achieving compliance on time and on budget becomes the expectation, not the exception.

Related Article: Effective Leaders Use Goals, Measures and Data to Reshape Culture

Powering the Organization From Within

Effective decentralization requires implementing enterprise-wide communication and reporting processes that keep everyone working in synch in order to avoid duplicative efforts. It’s a different kind of command and control than most organizations are accustomed to because decisions are no longer dictated from the top levels. Rather, there is collective visibility and alignment, so people not only feel accountable, but also invested in their work because they know they’re helping the company to achieve its business objectives.

William Weldon, the former chairman of Johnson & Johnson, said mistakes were easier to handle once his company moved to a decentralized form of management. The company has more than 200 autonomously directed divisions worldwide. When the company was controlled from the top, one bad decision could spell disaster for the entire organization. Mistakes are easier to fix, he said, when the outcomes were contained.

“You’ve got wonderful people running businesses,” he said in an interview with the Wharton School of Business. “You have to have confidence in them, but you let them run it — and you don’t have to worry about making that one big mistake.”