Self-management and Barbecues

Self-management sounds threatening to many people. That’s in the context of a workplace. But we, as adults self-manage all the time. Think of a barbeque and how it all comes together without a command-and-control structure.

It sounds like utter nonsense, doesn’t it?

Imagine that you have a group of friends who gather every now and then at someone’s house to prepare barbecue, socialize, and catch-up among friends. Usually, this kind of gathering is organized in an organic and natural way, without the need for someone to take absolute control or to tell each person what they have to do.

When we have good intentions and willingness from those involved, exceptional results are almost guaranteed.

People raise their hands to do things around a common goal: eat tasty food and have an amazing time.

Cooking Time

There’s the person who makes terrific guacamole. Another who knows the best technique to ignite the coal. And there’s the person who always brings the best tortillas in town.

During the preparation, some people chop vegetables, others install the speakers, and others ensure that the meat is grilled to perfection. There are no bosses, no titles, and no supervisors micromanaging what goes in the sauce. Everything is happiness.

Many times, when people ask how this self-management thing works at Nearsoft, I use this example to illustrate.

Not having a vertical hierarchy does not translate into chaos and disorder.

On the contrary, it will very likely lead people to much higher levels of satisfaction and commitment to their work than we are resigned to at work.

No Bosses

Why not bosses? For us, in Nearsoft this figure is as absurd as it would be at a barbecue.

Imagine again that you are with your group of friends. How would you react to these scenarios?

  • You arrive at the host’s house and upon arriving you are assigned a title and you are given a sheet with the description of your position and who you have to report to. Your job is to “Chop vegetables; Operator level 2; Supervisor: Rodrigo Lopez.”
  • As you chop the tomatoes, you begin to trade chopping tips with the person chopping onions. Then the supervisor, who by the way is not doing anything, passes by asking you both to stay quiet. He may even tell you how you should hold the knife “better.”
  • It’s time to enjoy some delicious tacos, but access to the guacamole is controlled by the boss. He is there to serve it and decides how much each person gets. Goodbye to the double spoonful of green gold in each taquito.

It doesn’t sounds like a very fun event, right?

The goal of eating delicious food is at the same level of importance as that of people having a good time. If one becomes more important than the other, an indispensable balance is lost which keeps everyone from having a good time.

Barbeque Principles

We agree that at the traditional barbecue, with friends and people you trust, these elements are at work,

  • Confidence that each person will do what they have to do. They know that their personal benefit goes hand-in-hand with the benefit of all. So, my taquito will be tastier if everyone else’s taco tastes just as good.
  • Anyone can assume leadership spontaneously and efficiently. They don’t need an authority figure to grant him the position of “General Manager of Guacamole” or “Head of the Department of Cold Drinks.”
    People know that there are consequences of not keeping their commitments. They may no longer be invited in the future, but they do not need someone to remind them at every step.
  • The goal of eating delicious food is at the same level of importance as that of people having a good time. If one becomes more important than the other, an indispensable balance is lost which keeps everyone from having a good time.

Workplace Principles

These points applied to a company like Nearsoft would be more like,

  • We trust people from day one. We trust them to take responsibility for what they have to do. We trust each other to understand what is important for us all: our commitment to customers and the mutual support we give each other.
  • We do not have fixed roles that limit the type of issues people can be involved in. When someone sees a problem, they solve it.
  • They can do it by themselves, or by rallying others to the cause via a Leadership Team. These are teams of volunteers who identify all kinds of internal problems, analyze them, propose, and execute solutions.
  • They need direct access to information to make good decisions. This requires the company a commitment to transparency.
  • Peer evaluations and feedback help us maintain accountability and focus on the quality of our work. People always have information about how they are perceived so that they can make intelligent decisions about how to improve. The decision is always yours because you know what you have to do. You know that your team is there to help. You know what they expect from you and the possible consequences of not meeting those expectations. You don’t need an authority figure to make these decisions for you.
  • At Nearsoft, business always goes hand-in-hand with the people’s wellbeing. We know that blind pursuit of short-term profit can exhausts the physical and emotional health of people and disconnect them from our long-term mission.

Utter Nonsense

When I talk to other people about how we do things at Nearsoft, their reaction is usually one of bewilderment or flat disbelief.

How can something like this work?

It works based on the same principles and practices that make a barbeque work. It’s a matter of scale. Sharing a goal. Respect and trust. Transparency.

The real question is, how did command-and-control ever worked?

An Invitation

If after this explanation you still have questions, I invite you to visit us for a day. You can see with your own eyes how this works.

If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get to eat delicious taquitos with us.

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