Management Is a Function, Not a Role

Management Used To Be a Role. We’re now DONE with that.

In the days of Frederick Taylor, management fit neatly in a role. A single skilled person directed the work of largely unskilled labor throughout the Industrial Revolution. Workers eventually became groomed through the education system to show up as cookie-cutter conformists who did what they were told. And they “checked out” and became unengaged “zombies” at work.


Fast-Forward to NOW:

Now we have “work/life balance”, a sanitized term for “unhappy, unengaged, split person” or “split personality”. (Dave Logan says if you love your work and your job, “Work/life balance is a crock“, and of course he is RIGHT.)

We still are dealing with a very broken and anachronistic education system that encourages conformity at a time when we need anything but. Innovators like Salman Khan have created self-managed learning spaces online, and are finally starting to get some traction.

Management is a function, not a role.

The World of Work Has Changed

In the new world, people do knowledge work. Even when they do not, they want to be respected. This respect is expected to show up as voice, choice and what we are coming to understand as self-management.

Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, in their book SOFTWARE IN 30DAYS OR LESS, say this:

“People are most productive when they manage themselves” (pg 29.)

Management is a function, not a role.


Management Is a Function, not a Role Occupied By a Single Person

The days of the management function being held by a person are surely numbered. If we look carefully at current examples like Scrum and the structure of MorningStar Company, we can see what is going on: management is more important than ever, and it is not embodied in a single person in a single (authoritative) role. Instead, employees execute mutual Client Letters of Understanding, which are essentially working agreements. Instead of a job description, these interpersonal agreements define the work.

Management is a function, not a role.

Inside product and software development, teams are self-managed. We call this “self organization” or “self organizing” teams. What we really mean is this: teams (in Scrum) and individuals (in organizations like MorningStar) are self managed.

We have entered the age of self-management. The old game is OVER.

Managers are becoming obsolete, even as management becomes more important than ever. The old Taylorist conformity is giving way to the rise of the self-managed worker. This has profound implications for just about everyone who works for a living.

Management is a function, not a role.

Time to get busy learning about what self-management means for your job, your department, your employer. Time to get some new beliefs about the world of work. Don’t wait.


NOTE: These and other ideas of mine appear in my latest book, THE CULTURE GAME. You can learn more about THE CULTURE GAME book here.