Radical New Idea: Middle Managers

Some months ago, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal about a company (Treehouse) that had NO middle managers, believing that its people were sufficiently motivated that they didn’t need them.

This plan was fine until the business grew, probably beyond the capacity of the owner to manage everyone, and maybe the self discipline didn’t work out as well as hoped. The big problem was that people thought less was expected of them, since there wasn’t a boss around to prod them.

The article doesn’t raise the obvious question (the Wall Street Journal isn’t in management advice) about how many supervisors one needs. The numbers are all over the map, depending on the nature of the work, self motivation of the employees, size or the company, etc. We’ve seen figures of 1 to 5, to 1 to 20.

So, yes you need bosses, but it’s hard to tell how many you need. The more complex the work, the higher the ratio of bosses to workers. The more independent the work, the lower the ratio.


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