Monday, June 06, 2016

Managers as information hubs

One of the arguments that is made for manager-less teams runs something like this:

“Managers were useful when they were information hubs, when they heard company information, policy, direction, etc. and cascaded it down to their staff.

But in a world with e-mail, web, slack and a myriad of information systems there is no need for the role. Information can be directly communicated via modern tools to staff.”

This doesn’t actually hold up when you examine it:

  1. Modern tools might allow mass communication but they also allow mass interruption. To communicate everything to everyone increases the information processing load on everyone. True, the information may be public but this has the cost of demanding everyone reads it.
  2. Much information does not need communicating to everyone, to communicate it to everyone interrupts everyone.
  3. Communicating a common message to everyone means that context is lost; information requires interpretation within local environment.
  4. Without a common, shared, understanding of information then each individual can interpret the same information differently within their context. Remember: the meaning of any message is decided by the reader, not the writer.
  5. Because modern tools lower the barriers - specifically cost - of communicating to many people more communication happens, but this increases the cost of receiving information because more people read the information and have to interpret it.

I could go on but you get the picture.

Let me suggest, that rather than removing the need for information hubs modern tools actually increase the need for information hubs. Far better for one person to read all the information, interpret it and pass on the useful stuff - within a context and perhaps in a timely but not disrupting fashion - than for everyone to undertake the same work and pay the price.

Such an information hub could be anyone, or at least, anyone who likes reading and communicating. But let me further suggest that this work, the information hub, is an example of management work.

Whether a commissioned manager or someone else does the work is another question.

But let me suggest further, than having someone with slightly elevated authority act in this capacity also makes sense. It makes sense because such a person can be privy to more information - yes I know we shouldn’t have secrets inside the company but they exist, some are even legally mandated.

Because such people have more authority they are also able to seek out - i.e. ask questions - which are missing from information.

In summary:

  • Just because modern tools allow us to remove information hubs it may not make sense to.
  • If there is going to be an information hub it may well make sense to give this person additional authority to go with their additional responsibility.