What Google Learned By Trying to Eliminate Managers
If you’ve been following along with Compli’s recent articles about manager development, a few things should be clear by now:
- Management is a tough job.
- Many managers don’t enter the role with the necessary skills or training.
- Manager development is a thorough, multi-phase process that no organization can afford to neglect.
All of which seems to translate to a big investment—an investment of already limited money, time, energy, and resources. It’s enough to make organizational leadership wonder:
“Do we really even need managers in the first place?”
Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, once asked themselves this very question. As engineers, they were predisposed to hate managers, whom they saw as mindless bureaucrats. And in 2002, they decided to try an experiment: Google would eliminate management and become a holacracy—a flat organization.
Chaos ensued. Employees struggled to find answers to everyday questions or get help with projects. They had no idea what to prioritize. They lost sight of the company’s strategic mission and how their work fit within the larger picture. They were mired in constant conflicts. Worst, they felt stagnant, unmotivated, and underappreciated.
It took only a few months for Page and Brin to realize they couldn’t engineer away management. Their experiment had fallen flat.
But Google’s attempt to become a manager-less workplace wasn’t just a lesson in humility for its founders. The experience inspired the company to launch Project Oxygen, an ongoing investigation into management. The goal? To find out why managers matter, and to quantify the ways in which those “bureaucrats” actually contribute to organizational performance.
After collecting and analyzing the data, Google determined that effective managers tend to share the same 8 qualities.
According to Project Oxygen’s findings, a boss should…
- be a good coach;
- empower their team, rather than micromanage;
- express interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being;
- be productive and results-oriented;
- be a good communicator (i.e. listen and share information);
- help with career development;
- have a clear vision and strategy for their team;
- possess the key technical skills that help them advise the team.
You can read more about Project Oxygen in this New York Times story and in a case study by the Harvard Business Review.
By studying and investing in its managers, Google has become one of the world’s leading companies and earned recognition as one of the best places to work. Fortunately, you don’t need a multiyear study or an engineering degree to follow Google’s example. Compli’s automated workforce platform can simplify and optimize your manager development and support initiatives—without siphoning your organization’s resources. Learn more.