Helicopter Management, Teal, and Stirring The Soup


Get Shift Done: Management

We’ve exchanged command and control for coax and manipulate

You thought things were political before?

The irony of fostering autonomous and self-organizing teams is that it eventually negates the need for traditional management. This is a common pattern observed during re-orgs and “transformations”. Being savvy career-wise, management tries to adapt and in the process becomes even more spooky and political. It’s like parents transitioning from command and control to helicopter parenting. In some cases it is downright Orwellian.

Have you heard of teal organizations? Teal is where it’s at (it is humbly referred to as the “next stage in the evolution of human consciousness”). Teal isn’t some drab Orange:

The hierarchical “predict and control” pyramid of Orange is replaced with a decentralized structure consisting of small teams that take responsibility for their own governance and for how they interact with other parts of the organization.

Anyway, no one wants to be Orange when there’s something brighter and more Tealy out there. No one wants to be a mere manager. That’s a dead end gig. Sydney Finkelstein writes:

We should no longer expect traditional job ladders for managers to move up the ranks, or even retaining the notion that middle managers are the glue that connects workers and ensures goal alignment up and down the hierarchy.

Leadership is the where the action is.

What this means is you’ve got a clusterfuck of people trying to reinvent themselves as facilitators, mentors, motivators, and, um, leaders. Orange and Teal mixed to a frothy brown. It’s the same urge — to wield power, expand influence, and advance career — just now under a thin veil of Simon Sinek dulcet tones. Throw in the incessant 1:1 meetings, passive aggressive political posturing, and gag inducing cultural manifestos, and you’ve got something far more oppressive than command and control.

My point here isn’t to say that there aren’t better ways of working. I believe in autonomous, self-organizing teams. I believe in quality facilitation and mentorship. I believe the front-lines are the best to make decisions, and should have the data to make those decisions. And I believe the front-lines should “hire” managers and help when they need it. Above all, and above all dogmas, what works, works.

But do you notice the degree to which this has all been co-opted? The people who need to be paying the most attention, and changing their habits the most, are the folks playing god with the front-lines. They’re stirring the soup and opaquely tweaking and probing the culture. They’re reading up on systems thinking and complexity theory on one breath, and then plotting their ascension in the other. It feels kind of shitty.

This is the environment that many builders, crafters, makers find themselves in: in organizations caught uncomfortably mid-evolution, half getting it, but not able to get out of their own way. We’ve exchanged command and control for coax and manipulate.

The answer is to empower the front-lines to get the work done, coach, facilitate, and get out the way. And that’s a hard pill for some to swallow.

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