Will middle managers join the dinosaurs?

Photo by Frankie Roberto

Lynda Gratton from the Future of Work blog has written an interesting post claiming that middle management as a role is rapidly disappearing. She gives four reasons to back her claim (for the full explanation, read her wonderful post):

1. Technology has become the great general manager … When technology can play much of the role of the manager – why have one?

2. Skilled team members are increasingly self-managed… it could well be a rotating role. So when teams can manage themselves – what can a general manager add?

3. Attitudes toward management have also changed … Gen Y workers see no value in reporting to someone who simply keeps track of what they do, What they do value is mentoring and coaching from someone they respect. Someone, in other words, who is a master—not a general manager.

4. It was possible in the past to manage ‘intuitively’ and for good management skills to come as part of the whole ‘decent person’ angle. Now management is fiendishly difficult – particularly if people are located virtually across the globe. These situations take extreme specialist skills to lead.

All valid reasons. While I don’t have the empirical evidence to support my reasoning like Gratton does, I still find myself disagreeing. In fact, I think the reasons she mentions just make middle managers even more important.

Increasingly, work, especially radical creative work that creates true long-term value, will come out of cooperation between specialties from different fields. This means that people who come from different backgrounds, have different languages and different working habits and perceptions must come together and create something. Anyone who has ever been is such an environment knows that this is a difficult and stressful situation. More and more there will be a need for people to work together in a way that will create synergy and in ways that will bring about the comparative advantage both in skills and knowledge of every team member. While it is optimistic to think that team members can do that by themselves, it is usually not practical. Not because these people are bad or incompetent but just because their differences are such a big gap that it will usually be impossible for them to create that synergy without a person that help guide the atmosphere and who is responsible for creating the condition for collaborative value creation.

This however, does not mean that change isn’t coming. Just like in other areas the work of a manager will specialize. Management could not stay limited to technical reporting. And it cannot stay forced on leadership through content where the manager uses his superior knowledge and skill. Instead, management should be a specialization by itself, a role for people who are equipped to allow the professional process to be led by the team while they focus on leadership through process – maintaining the environment that supports collaboration on one hand and enabling the uniqueness of each team member to flourish on the other hand.

The change in technology, attitudes, rise of self management and specialization all lead to the conclusion that middle management has to take a different role and use different tools. Not that it is should disappear.

What do you think? I middle management a dying breed? Will they be extinct in a few years?

Elad

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One Response to “Will middle managers join the dinosaurs?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    The words “orchestrating” and “conducting” come to mind in ascribing attributes of what “middle management” is becoming. If so, then, maybe, everyone is a middle manager in facilitating value co-creation with whomsoever they work.

    It’s good you took the professor to task. It would be helpful if she were also a “responder!”


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