Leaderless teams are a bullshit fad

I am old enough to remember plenty of management fads which claimed to be elixirs for all the ills of organizing.

I probably remember “TQM” (Total Quality Management) best of all, because of its vast popularity despite it being total nonsense.  Indeed, within just a few years, “time to market” had relegated “quality” to the back seat.  And if you think quality is still a driving force, take a flight or call a mobile service provider!

I smell a new TQM skunk! In social media as well as academic journals, there is a lot of vibe about the lessening prominence of leadership as well as the need to focus on enhancing self-management for both the sophisticated nerd and the average Joe.

I have worked with many organizations which put a high premium on leaderless and self-management. Without an exception, they all “outgrew” this or died from decision paralysis and astounding mediocrity.

This short post will provide my perspective on this new religion-de-jour!

1) Leaderlessness and self-management have a manipulative basis.

  •    Empowered by information technology yet bogged down by ERPs and mistrust, it may be sexy to espouse the value of self – management, but it is cunning to an extreme. It certainly does create someone to blame when the system does not work too well.
  •    Power is concentrated in the hands of the ruling class, the tycoons, the powers that be or whatever. A call to “leaderlessness” and self-management sounds to me a general telling his front line troops to “develop the strategy and battle plan”, and then shooting them in the back for being cowards.

2. Self Management in the ERP hell.

In many organizations, ERP has replaced common sense and initiative, and serving the process is so dominant that there is almost no room for either good leadership or self-management. So let’s put the blame where it lies, and not promote the false messiah of self management.

3. Psychology

People need leaders to admire and hate. I see this as a self-obvious truth. Am I too old? Out of touch? Or is someone peddling a new fad?


As the world of work became so complex and high speed, integration between disciplines and perspectives becomes absolutely critical. This integration does not happen by itself, because of ego, power games and bandwidth issues. Leaders drive integration by choosing the right people and leading/managing them properly.

So yes, I do see leaderlessness, holacracy and over dosing on  self management as a new fad and in many cases, pure crap, misleading, manipulative and/or irrelevant.

But it sure is going to be lucrative.

And an afterthought- Organizations and people need leaders; employees, equipped with an end to end perspective of what’s going on. That does NOT negate the fact that  yeam members must learn to  work with their peers to resolves issues without undue escalation.

Share Button

Let’s get real about “agility”

There are several major reasons that organizations are not flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstance. In this post I will examine three, and suggest what needs to be done to achieve more flexibility.  (There are of course other reasons, like bad politics. which I will not deal with in this post).

1) Too much chaos

Sam, Lisl and Ethan’s company started in a garage. Sam wrote the key algorithms , Lisl raised money and Ethan looked for a strategic partner. All 3 wrote code. All decisions were made together by consensus.

Their company now has 50  people with 4 major  subcontractors. All decisions go up to Sam Lisl and Ethan who still manage the company like 3 nerds in a garage. Decision making is a nightmare, locked in the free-spirited “we-all-decide-everything” mode. (Last week they had a one day meeting about with which travel agency to work).

In essence, their company has become the very essence of rigidity, with decisions lagging by 4 months.

2) Too much bureaucracy

I will not use a case study to illustrate this type of rigidity in a large  company . We all know it all too well. These organizations have an ERP which has replaced common sense. The work flow  is a nightmare. Every minor issue generates tens to hundreds of emails, as anxious staff make sure that they serve the process and transfer blame backwards or forwards. It is very hard to do very simple things, and impossible to do anything creative. Everything takes much much longer than it should, and the organization (often assisted by internal OD) is obsessed with process improvement.

3) Organizations which have adopted agile methodologies.

Prompted by “best practices”, blind emulation of technology and pure stupidity, there are a plethora of “agile methodologies” available to organizations who want to apply agile coding practices to the art of organization. (In some ways this reminds me of western politicians who want to promote liberal democracy in the Middle East).

An agile methodology is an oxymoron, like thought leadership. In the quest to loosen up from too much or too little order in order to gain more flexibility, organizations embrace yet another cause of rigidity,  a “methodology”.


Organizations are rigid because they have too much or too little “order”.

An agile methodology is self defeating.

Organizations whose rigidity stems from chaos need order.

Organizations with too much order need less IT driven processes, digital detox and massive injections of common sense. Yes, common sense.  Ni plus ni moins.

Agile organizational methodologies should be replaced with smart hires, lot of room for common sense, and small teams (as geographically consolidated as possible) that meet face to face with their smartphones off.






Share Button