Assuming leadership responsibility for a team at some point, enjoying the privileges of being the head of a department, a senior head of a department, or a member of the management team – these were and still are common goals for ambitious, highly skilled professionals. In the IT industry on the other hand, the role of the architect already offers a function in which a technical expert is responsible for software development, but it does not necessarily involve disciplinary management of a team. Above all in large, international companies, but also in medium-sized companies, we can still observe a “boss culture”. You have a boss who pulls up in a company car, dressed in a suit and gets the work done together with the team in a variety of small groups; this person is assigned goals from the top and distributes them further down. The more people you manage the more power you feel you have. The game of employee poker is often played in management circles: Who is leading the biggest team? Who are the people getting approvals for new jobs so they can enlarge their teams? The more employees a manager has, the more responsibility, managerial competence and goal orientation he or she is entrusted with. This has been the general understanding and still is the case in a number of places. It goes without saying that such structures often entail elbowing and petty political power games.
Trend researchers are therefore in agreement that for companies that want to innovate and be trendsetters, a classic “boss culture” is no longer necessarily effective nowadays. Rather, flexible project structures with experts, coaches, project owners and decision makers are the demand of the day. Visions and goals are packed into project-specific work packages. There is increasing demand for process modeling skills and project management methodologies, in addition to technical expertise. Likewise, the ability to lead agile teams and adapt flexibly to the new project requirements is also needed.
Once a project is completed, a new team is set up. So the person who acted as a Coach before will possibly go back to being “just” an expert. Instead, the role of Project Owner is assumed by another colleague who has the most experience in the new focus area and who can manage (co-manage) heterogeneous teams in a virtual project environment.
The challenge today is this: How do I get people with their individuality, their varying qualifications and different working styles to work together successfully?
Expert teams can no longer be managed in rigid pyramid-type or hierarchical structures. New forms of organization are needed here, since otherwise conflicts are inevitable and innovation development is hampered. It is hard for Innovation to emerge in an environment where you’ve got a daily political power struggle, while the head of the department tries to defend his or her position in all directions. Trend researchers therefore see success in structures where experts can operate detached from hierarchies, where mistakes can be made, where time is given to try things, and where visions rather than fixed goals lead the way.
Is the transformation of the working world already in full swing?
From the perspective of current managers, who have fought hard to achieve their status as department heads, such a development in the working world requires a strong internal willingness for change, something which you cannot enforce overnight. Is it possible to persuade a department manager to give up a department overnight and work with a flexible team on an innovative project instead? No, a change process like that is not going to happen so quickly. Professionals and managers must therefore be pulled into the change process on a step-by-step basis. Salary systems and social benefits must also be gradually adjusted so that in the end, everyone can tag along. Generation Y has already introduced a new trend into the working world: Getting an attractive salary, a company car, and an annual bonus is no longer the cure-all for intrinsically motivated employees. Young professionals today (irrespective of the industry) are interested in having meaningful work, working in a team with like-minded people, helping to shape the future and looking after their personal development. Attractive employers are above all those who grant freedom rather than maintain a control culture. These are above all companies that place high demands on work performance, but in return offer models for reconciling family and private life with professional life. Generation Z (year of birth 1995 and later) continues to shape the same expectations. According to a recent work study by Audi from June 2017, only about a third of junior employees want to pursue a management career, while 40 percent want to make their professional development dependent on their respective living situation.
Likewise, these expectations will benefit new structures in the working world. The needs of a project coach, who prefers to work as a developer in the next project due to changes in his or her life situation, to then to take over more responsibility in a another project in a few years, can be better reconciled with flexible working structures. Family-related time-outs can also be incorporated better into flexible work processes than in traditional hierarchical cultures.
So how do you manage to convince long-established managers that companies should be more agile and flexible in the future and that they should no longer be “governed” from above? We will also see industries and companies in the future which will be led by a more or less classically structured management team. This applies both to companies managed by owners as well as listed companies. Furthermore, top executives will be needed who are ready to address the concerns of employees and steer teams in the right direction. So we should not assume that hierarchies will completely disappear. Nevertheless, leaders will be expected to reorient their roles in the future. Highly qualified and experienced managers must realize that today’s economic and social processes have become so complex that you can no longer solve challenges in competitively operating companies on your own. In a multi-stage change management process, managers must come to the conclusion that successful teams today combine experience, intelligence, and competencies to develop a solution together. As a result, employees must be granted more freedom in designing their work, while less power should be concentrated at the top of the corporate ladder.
This does not mean that there will no longer be any clear decisions made that everyone should feel committed to. On the contrary, in every innovation project, a binding decision must be made at a certain point in time to be able to progress further in the development. Also, this trend does not mean that all decisions will always be made democratically, but at the least any decisions will be coordinated with the team of experts and made transparent.
For technical experts, this development means that the specialist career path can increasingly intersect with a project management career path, while the traditional management career path is losing on importance. The ambition to take on technical as well as managerial responsibility within the team and act as an equal member of the team, pass on knowledge and to accept advice and ideas from others, will determine the working life of tomorrow. Actually, this is nothing new for the developer, but it may be so for the classic mastermind.