At the moment one reads a lot about so-called “absent leaders”: Interestingly, this topic is not only topical since Corona and working in a home office. Already in 2018, people were thinking about the consequences of an absent executive for a company:
The consequences of absent managers and the effects on employees have therefore already been discussed several times. Today I would like to reflect on what the team can do to make a virtue out of necessity.
One of the main problems of absent leadership is described as a lack of direction. But it is possible for the team to give itself orientation. People have been talking about “self-managed teams” forever. The agile way of working has further enlivened this concept. The team usually knows best who should make the decision on which issue. Thus, a supervisor is often only needed to remove obstacles and develop his people. But what if the supervisor does not even do this?
If the organisation of a company is basically hierarchical, there are clear limits to what the team can do on its own. Removing obstacles and developing staff are probably beyond the capabilities of a team here. Staff development could be discussed by employees with the HR department, which should have at least some effect. Removing barriers could be approached by the team by presenting different scenarios to senior managers and explaining the consequences of different options. This approach has the advantage that the higher superiors know directly what the outcome could be without immediately discrediting the direct superior.
In the medium term, a hierarchically organised company should naturally address the issue of an “absent manager”. After all, if the team does the work alone, the salary of this manager can be saved. Thinking further, one could consider whether this model could be broadly adopted: How far could the empowerment of the employees be extended? How much can a team decide in a self-organised way without having to go through various decision-making and approval stages?
Those who have absent managers in the company should see this as an opportunity for the company to engage with agile working methods. If the work is done excellently with a smaller number of supervisors, the structure can be streamlined.
Let’s compare the three possible situations:
- a team is successful with the supervisor:
Everything is in the green, the way of working can be both traditional hierarchical (then the manager makes all relevant decisions) or agile (then the manager would either be part of the team or responsible for removing hurdles and developing the employees).
- a team is successful in spite of an absent leader:
There is a destructive leader at work who is trying to undermine the team and working against the team. This will weld the team together and strengthen team autonomy – the best conditions for the emergence of an agile team.
- a team is successful without the supervisor.
This is the situation we have already highlighted above. In contrast to situation 2, this manager is less noticeable. Here, the team is already set up in an agile way without the management noticing it immediately.
It would therefore be important for the management to observe how a team achieves its successes and what role the respective managers play in this. If the role is either supportive or non-existent, the company is already much more agile than it might have thought possible.
Would you like to check with someone how agile you already are? I’m standing by!