Let’s hear it for the team

Command-and-control leadership might be passé these days, but for most companies the concept of self-organising teams is one step too far. What – abolish managers? Not necessarily, but in the new, network-centric version of work, it’s less about managing and more about collaboration and knowledge-sharing, which implies a far different skillset. London Business School’s Gary Hamel is highly critical of top-heavy management, which “exacts a hefty tax on any organisation”. He’s among a growing cohort of influential business thinkers who say ‘management as usual’ is dead and leaders had better prepare to manage without managers. Hamel cites the example of Morning Star, the world’s largest tomato processor. Morning Star employees have no bosses, there are no titles and no promotions, workers negotiate with their peers, everyone can spend the company’s money, and compensation decisions are peer-based. It’s also the market leader. “Morning Star is a ‘positive deviant’; indeed, it’s one of the most delightfully unusual companies I’ve come across,” Hamel says. “By digging into the principles and practices that underpin this company’s unique model, we can learn how it might be possible to escape – or at least reduce – the management tax.” Ric Charlesworth knows all about self-organising teams. An outstanding sportsman, coach, politician and medical doctor, he introduced the ‘leaderful team’ concept to Australia’s national women’s hockey side in the 1990s. Under Charlesworth, the Hockeyroos went on to win nearly every top hockey title in the world. “The goal of each individual in a leaderful team is to achieve personal excellence in a co-operative environment,” Charlesworth says. “Co-operation is as highly valued as personal success or individual achievement.” Now coaching Australia’s men’s hockey side for the London Olympics, Charlesworth believes the concept can work in a corporate environment – if the people who lead commit to it. “They have to adopt it in the truest sense, not just because it sounds politically correct,” he says. “Leadership must clearly know where it’s going and what the organisation’s purpose is and how and why this concept fits in.”

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