What If IT Managers Didn’t Have To Manage?

It turns out that there is a way to be an IT manager without having to mange people
It turns out that there is a way to be an IT manager without having to mange people
Image Credit: World Bank Photo Collection

The job of an IT manager is to use their IT manager skills to manage their IT team. There are a lot of different parts to this job; however, one key one is the management of the IT team staff. As we all know, this can be a tricky thing to do well and it can end up taking up a lot of our time in part because most of use really don’t have any IT manager training on how to do this. However, maybe there’s a different way to go about running an IT team. What if IT manager’s didn’t have to manage anyone?

What Is Holacracy?

Over at the online shoe retailer Zappos, they are in the middle of trying a radical management experiment. What they have done is to implement a new management philosophy called holacracy. The idea behind holacracy is that you do away with a traditional hierarchical management system. Instead, your workers all belong to circles.

One of the circles that everyone belongs to is “the company” circle. This makes sense because everyone works for the company. However, then things get more detailed. A single employee may belong to multiple circles. There are roles associated with each circle. Additionally, there may be subcircles within a circle. There is a purpose for each circle. There is a purpose for each role in a circle. Employees can fill many different roles in many different circles all at the same time.

Zappos believes that by implementing holacracy now everything at their company has become a lot more explicit. They feel that they now have a great deal more structure to their organization. One of the ways that they keep everything under control is by having each circle hold a governance meeting every so often. These meetings are used to list accountability and to change a circles purpose, etc. Zappos has stated that they believe that in a typical IT department, there are actually three different organizations at play. There is the formal organization chart, there is the way that people really interact in order to get work done, and then there is the way that the company wishes that they could configure the department. Zappos believes that by implementing holacracy they have been able to bring these three organizational structures much closer together.

What Can You Lean From What Zappos Is Doing?

What Zappos has implemented is a rather radical approach to restructuring their entire company. Although this may be a bit too much for most IT managers, that does not mean that we can’t learn from what they’ve done. One of the most important things that Zappos has discovered is that at most organizations, people are defined by their job titles. Zappos believes that people can be much more than this. They believe that if you can release someone from the narrow confines of their job title, then they will feel free to collaborate more and they’ll bring more creativity to their job.

One of the big changes that comes about by switching to holacracy is that in a typical IT team, an individual needs to get permission to do something. Generally speaking what this means is that they need to visit and talk with multiple people in order to build up support for their idea before they get permission to actually do it. The thinking in an organization that has implemented holacracy is that assuming what you are proposing doing is not explicitly forbidden, then just go ahead and do it – don’t worry about getting permission.

One of the biggest differences under holacracy is that employees are self-managing. This means that at any time they can quit a circle that they belong to, resign from a position, and then go ahead and join another circle. If they are doing a poor job in some role, they can be removed from that role, but it does not mean that they have been removed from the company. The ultimate goal of the company is to have its employees both self-organize and self-manage.

What All Of This Means For You

As an IT manager our job comes with a wide variety of different tasks that we need to perform because of the importance of information technology. A big part of the job is managing the staff in the IT department. As we all know this can take up a great deal of an IT manager’s time. What if there was another way? What if we could be an IT manager, but not have to worry about managing people? Over at the online shoe retailer Zappos, they may have come up with a way to do this: holacracy.

When holacracy is implemented, the traditional organizational structure goes away. It is replaced with the concept of circles. Every employee is a member of multiple circles. Within circles there are roles and a single employee can have multiple different roles in different circles. Zappos feels that this approach gives their company more structure. They also feel that in a traditional company, people are defined by their job titles and this limits the amount of networking and creativity that they can bring to the table

What Zappos has done represents a radical shift in management philosophy. I’m not sure if most IT managers are going to be willing to go as far as they have gone. However, now that they have done this, we can learn from them. What we probably want to do to make sure that in our IT teams people don’t feel as though they are defined by their job title. If we can make this happen, then perhaps we will have done some IT team building and introduced just a bit of holacracy into our IT teams…

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that an IT department could adopt the idea of circles and multiple roles in multiple circles?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Although we all know that being an IT manager is a people job, sometimes it can be a bit of an effort to remember that. There are so many different things that we are called on to use our IT manager skills to do: time cards, year-end performance reviews, setting goals for the team, etc. When it comes down to taking care of the little things like our relationships with each member of our team, it can sometimes seem as though it’s just too much – we have not had any IT manager training for this stuff. We’ve got to ask ourselves: do I really have to be nice?