16 Companies That Don’t Have Managers

In: BlogDate: Aug 27, 2019By: Henry Stewart

"How many of you feel you need to be managed?" asked Alison Sturgess-Durden at the 2019 Happy Workplaces Conference. Nobody raised their hand.

Alison, a Director at the software company Mayden, asked why we assume that people need to be "managed" at work. A small, but growing, number of organisations are taking a different approach.

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1) Mayden. Mayden, based in Bath in the UK, switched to a flat structure where "everyone would have an equal say in the life and direction of the company." Instead of managers there are 'volunteer internal peer coaches' who support their colleagues and help them find their own solutions.

2) Buurtzorg. A community care social enterprise in the Netherlands, Buurtzorg has grown from four nurses in 2008 to over 14,000 today. They have no managers, organising instead of teams of 10 to 12 who decide for themselves how to serve their patients. They are said to have saved the Dutch health system billions of euros, deliver outstanding patient care and have been rated the best place to work in the country. More here.

3) Local Cornerstone. Inspired by Buurtzorg, Local Cornerstone — a provider that is transforming the social care sector in Scotland — moved in 2016 to a self-managing approach. "A new flat structure and the removal of managerial roles allows colleagues to genuinely be trusted and empowered to make their own decisions including for example rota management, assigning team member responsibilities, deciding on their own training, peer appraisal and being as creative and innovative as they wish. Our team of coaches are always on hand to provide advice if required."

4) Reddico. Reddico is a digital agency based in Tonbridge in Kent. Head of Operations Luke Kyte explains the philosophy here: "No hours. No managers. Rules set by the team. Let’s see what happens next."

5) u2i. u2i is a web technology consulting company based in Krakow in Poland (though with a Head Office in New York). Employing around 60 people, it is renowned for being largely self-managing and for the fact that it distributes fully 100% of its profits in bonuses to employees. Instead of managers they have "Sherpas" to coach and guide. More here.

6) Zappos. US online shoe delivery company Zappos has long been an inspiration. Founder Tony Hsieh outlined his belief in creating a happy working environment in his best seller Delivering Happiness. In 2014 they adopted the Holacracy idea of "management without managers."

7) Valve. Valve is a 400-strong games software company, whose value has been estimated at over $1 billion. It has been manager-free since it was founded in 1996. Check out its brilliant Employee Handbook. Of Managing Director Gabe Newall, it says "of all the people in the company who are not your boss, Gabe is the MOST not your boss." It also includes a remarkably honest "What Valve is not good at" section.

As its website says: "When you give smart talented people the freedom to create without fear of failure, amazing things happen." Unusually it puts its approach down to the political theory of anarcho-syndicalism.

8) Basecamp. A software company that has been around for almost 20 years, Basecamp is known for the remarkable usability of its products. As Inc puts it: "Instead of managers, the company looks for people who can direct their own work and actually produce something, rather than watch others produce."

See the excellent book It Doesn't Have to be Crazy at Work by founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson for a truly sensible approach to running an organisation.

9) Morning Star. Morning Star, a $700 million tomato processing company, has no managers: "By making the mission the boss and truly empowering people, the company creates an environment where people can manage themselves."

10) Gore – Sponsors not bosses. Gore is a multi-billion dollar company with 10,000 staff, once rated the most innovative in the US, and best known for its Goretex product. I have often described Gore as a company where people choose their managers. However their website makes clear that the people they are choosing are "sponsors (not bosses)." There are "no chains of command" and instead associates communicate directly with each other.

11) Treehouse. Founder of Treehouse, Ryan Carson, explains here the decision to do away with managers in June 2013, because the system took people away from doing stuff to structuring. Remove the managers, he argues, and you get so much time back for everyone.

12) Github. A coding company with around 40 employees, one explains: "We do things differently at GitHub: we work out of chat rooms, we don't enforce hours, and we have zero managers. People work on what they want to work on. Product development is driven by whoever wants to drive product."

13) Medium. Jason Stirman explains how he discovered as a manager at Twitter that asking "'What's going on in your life?' was far more effective than asking 'What's blocking you at work?'" At Medium, they have adopted Holacracy.

14) North West Care Cooperative (UK).A small, emerging, CQC Registered co-operative provider of care, or as we prefer to think of it as a "community" whose "users", "employees" (a la Buurtzorg) and "supporting" members care "about" each other. Learn more on their Twitter, @HWCareCoop.

15) Cocoon. Italian-based, though now present across four countries, Cocoon uses an open governance framework that they have called a Liquid Organisation. Read all about it here.

16) Semco. The Brazilian-based manufacturing company was the inspiration for many of us when Ricardo Semler published Maverick in 1992. Read his classic blog, Managing Without Managers, written back in 1989.

Management guru Gary Hamel argues in "First, let’s fire all the managers" on the Harvard Business Review that "a hierarchy of managers exacts a hefty tax on any organisation." A centrally planned approach works no better within an organisation than it did in the Eastern European economies, and is a huge waste of time, money and resources.

At Happy we don’t have managers either. We have what we call 'M&Ms' (Mentors and Multipliers), though they could be described as coaches. They help and support our people to work out how to work at their best. (This may be old fashioned compared to some of the companies above, but we do believe our people benefit from having somebody to guide and support them.)

So think about it. Do your managers enhance your work and enable your people? If so, great! Or do they take up huge amount of time and resources doing that management thing?

(Remember that 49% of UK employees, according to a CMI survey, so dislike their manager that they would take a paycut to be managed by somebody else.)

There is another way. Perhaps its time for more organisations to try doing away with managers?


This is an update of my 2014 article, after it was pointed out that I’d included only US companies.

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Henry Stewart, Founder and Chief Happiness Officer

Henry is founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Happy Ltd, originally set up as Happy Computers in 1987. Inspired by Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick, he has built a company which has won multiple awards for some of the best customer service in the country and being one of the UK’s best places to work.

Henry was listed in the Guru Radar of the Thinkers 50 list of the most influential management thinkers in the world. "He is one of the thinkers who we believe will shape the future of business," explained list compiler Stuart Crainer.

His first book, Relax, was published in 2009. His second book, the Happy Manifesto, was published in 2013 and was short-listed for Business Book of the Year.

You can find Henry on LinkedIn and follow @happyhenry on Twitter.

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