Universiteit Leiden

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Eric van den Brandt

Why would you need a manager?

Lotte Croiset van Uchelen has worked at IT company Schuberg Philis for 11 years now. What makes this company so special? Ever since its foundation, only colleagues have worked there. No boss, no management. ‘Why would you need a manager?’

The seminar room is filled with a very diverse audience. Nevertheless, everyone has one important thing in common: The successful completion of the Leiden Leadership Programme (LLP). ‘This is a great opportunity to jointly reflect on leadership again’, says Lucille Brakefield, coordinator of the LLP.

‘Why would people who make their own decisions about buying a house or starting a family suddenly not be able to make independent decisions in the workplace?’ wonders Van Uchelen. ‘A manager is superfluous.’ Those present are not immediately convinced by this statement.

Mutual trust

‘Who decides on firing personnel?’, is being asked. ‘If people do not function well in the company, they get a maximum of two years in which they have time to learn new things. Everyone gets a coach, a colleague who will fully support you during this period. If unsuccessful, this person unfortunately has to leave,’ tells Van Uchelen. ‘If a certain project team requires fewer colleagues, the team will decide among themselves who will go to another team or project. It is all about mutual trust.’

‘How can a team be formed without a manager?’, someone else asks. ‘There will always be a natural leader in such a team’, is the explanation. ‘In every friend group, there is always the one person that organises every party and another one to go to with a broken heart. These same roles are being fulfilled in the workplace. A leader, someone who is good at giving directions and proposing decisions, naturally emerges. You do not need a manager for that.’

Customer satisfaction

‘But who is responsible for failures or mistakes that are being made during these projects?’, is the next question directed at Van Uchelen. ‘The responsibility lies with the team. Everyone carries and feels this responsibility, so you do not need to tell the team members that they have to feel bad when something fails. They know that themselves very well.’

Photography: Eric van den Bandt

There is a lot of attention for the special organisational structure of Schuberg Philis. Since 2013, this structure is even being taught at Harvard Business School. Despite the challenges that Schuberg Philis faces without a manager, the company functions very well: The gross revenue is larger than that of other IT companies, and the aspired 100% customer satisfaction is usually achieved.

A few students and alumni are inspired by this way of working. Others are not convinced yet and are left with some questions. After the seminar, there is luckily still enough time to talk and exchange ideas between alumni in Café ‘t Keyzertje.

(Lotte Middendorp)

Leiden Leadership Programme

The International Leiden Leadership Programme is an extracurricular honours programme for talented master's students. Through in-depth training sessions, assessments and seminars, the ILLP focusses on gaining insights into each students' own personal leadership style and reaching their leadership goals.

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