Out of the many organizations doing innovative exploration of the future of work, Enspiral, and its ventures (such as: Loomio) are most certainly at the leading forefront of some of the most radical experiments.
Flatter, more egalitarian working environments are a big part of their organizational vision and as a critical milestone towards accomplishing it, they are working to minimize the natural power dynamic that exists in the way the role of managers is traditionally defined.
Rather than simply “eliminating managers” and suffer the consequences of the gaping organizational hole that is left (a common anti-pattern), they’ve set out to deliberately identify the critical functions that managers play and unbundle them into several roles, that are then spread more evenly across the entire community.
One of those roles is “Stewarding”, which is defined as follows:
When you have an issue, you can’t approach a group; you need a specific person you know you can turn to. This is what your steward is for. They won’t solve every problem, but they are your point of contact to make sure the problem gets solved. If you don’t know who to go to, you can always go to them.
Stewarding is not about managing your daily work. Its about you as an individual, and your relationship to the co-op. They can be your mentor, or your guide, or your sounding board. If you ever get into a conflict situation, they’ll be by your side making sure you are well supported to a resolution.
They also provide a few concrete use cases that you’ll typically use your manager for but at Loomio, should be addressed by your Steward:
*) Be the ones you talk to if your coworker is being a jerk
*) Support you to meet your personal development goals
*) Help make sure you do the things you said you were going to do
*) Put a human face on talking to ‘the organisation’
Almost everyone at Loomio has a Steward, and almost everyone is someone else’s Steward (the illustration at the top of the post demonstrates that well), with a couple of edge cases that are spelled out in detail in the Stewardship policy.
While this solution is not without its shortcomings, for example, it works best when Stewarding needs, capabilities and motivations are homogeneous (which is hardly ever the case), it is, by all means, a viable alternative solution to the way these responsibilities are handled using the traditional management approach. Which is more that can be said for several other proposed alternatives out there. I’m excited to see how this organizational experiment pans out as both Enspiral and Loomio scale and looking forward to having them share their learnings with the broader community.