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What's It Like In A World Without Bosses?

Photo by Rawpixel from Unsplash

​Have you ever thought what it would be like to live in a world without bosses? Recently, I was introduced to Adam Grant’s podcast called “WorkLife.” Adam and I both have organizational psychology backgrounds and he led the #MeToo panel discussion at the WorkHuman conference I returned from earlier this month, so I gave his podcast a listen. I am hooked on the few episodes I’ve listen to and was extremely intrigued by a thought that was brought up about self-employment aka being your own boss. I attempted self-employment before my current role as a senior talent management consultant for a large healthcare system. I moved to New Orleans to bring my start-up alive and my entrepreneurial endeavors were cut short (as many of them are) but I did learn early on about how difficult self-employment is. Although very thankful for my full-time position and the opportunity to contribute my skills and bring value to a company, my entrepreneurial spirit flickers inside me.

When this podcast introduced an interesting concept (a world without bosses), I started thinking, “What if we brought a taste of self-employment inside organizations?” What if there was no structured leadership and no formal bosses within a high functioning company? I suppose this configuration is not for every business but could it work in select organizations? In 2002, Google attempted to create a flat organization and when people were knocking down the CEO’s door with questions about budget reports and interpersonal conflict issues they said, “Nah, we probably need managers.” Since Google is a data driven guru, they published a report from their findings on 8 key leadership qualities. Now we know the ultimate innovators have unsuccessfully implemented the non-leader approach, but others have gone boss-less successfully.

The podcast went inside Morning Star, a company who has implemented this intriguing notion and has been extremely successful and thrived in business. They are the people who make all the tomato paste for your favorite tomato based, ketchup goods.

Here's how boss-less life works for Morning Star:

Morning Star employees say that their mission is their ‘boss.’ Employees begin each new year by crafting their own mission statement with plans on how they are going to advance the company’s initiatives. The employee gets feedback on their mission from colleagues who are most affected by their work and the goal is to get their colleagues’ buy-in.

At Morning Star, they believe as humans, we have consequences to our behaviors and the assumption is the person can’t do the job if they can’t manage themselves. So, instead of having a boss who’s in charge of everything all the time, employees agree on who the right person is to lead in each situation and grant them authority to direct in that occasion.

To Be or Not to Be (boss-less)

When you work independently, you can decide what core parts of yourself you want to bring into your job. You call the shots. When you have a boss, they may have different ideas about the image of your role. There’s a compromise between freedom and structure and autonomy and community when working for a leader or being your own. Self-management is a huge freedom but also requires a tremendous amount of work and consistent motivation. Studies show that bosses add value to companies and the lives of their direct reports – they make decisions, coordinate people, and resolve conflicts. Hierarchies exist to bring efficiency and speed to businesses. Whether you work for a boss or are self-employed, the better you can get at structuring your work, the more valuable you are as a worker.

What do you think about a world without bosses?

Do you have experience going out on your own and succeeding or failing?

What ways can you make your current work-place more autonomous and self-directed?