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Is It Possible to Run a Company Without Middle Managers?

When we say "middle manager," what comes to mind? Depending on your place in your organization, it's probably either an "Office Space"-esque drone, who does more to impede progress than to promote it, or a beleaguered intermediary who's always in trouble with someone and never gets credit.

When we say “middle manager,” what comes to mind? Depending on your place in your organization, it’s probably either an “Office Space”-esque drone, who does more to impede progress than to promote it, or a beleaguered intermediary who’s always in trouble with someone and never gets credit.

David K. Williams, Forbes contributor and CEO of software company Fishbowl, thinks he has a solution to this problem: get rid of managers altogether. Instead, he recommends replacing managers with “leaders.”

Sound like semantics? In his column, Williams explains:

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“Yes, there’s a fine line between leadership and management—but there’s a massive difference as well, I maintain. Our approach makes the groups and leaders autonomous, but also interdependent. They are bright. All voices are heard. We decide on the ‘best’ idea, no matter who originates it, and most of the time, we actually forget who brings the idea forward.”

Fishbowl is run by Williams and his leadership partner, president Mary Michelle Scott. They develop strategy with three pairs of department captains, who are responsible for day-to-day deployment of that strategy. The captains lead one meeting per week with their teams.

The key difference between the usual hierarchy and this structure seems to be that the chief executive encourages workers to think as a team, instead of a group of individuals, while valuing all ideas equally.

Williams says that his policy is: “Don’t come to me with your problem until you’re ready to come forward with your best solution, or your best set of possible solutions, as well. And did you take it to your teammates? What did they say?”

Which goes to prove once again that, no matter what the hierarchical structure, corporate culture really is top-down.

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(Photo Credit: p_a_h/Flickr)

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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