Finsweet always attempts to follow a horizontal management strategy.
This article can apply to businesses of varying sizes. However, it's written through the lens of management at Finsweet, a 50-person company.
- When managers have managers who have managers.
- Managers and decision-makers are not actively working with the working team.
- Some or all managers have "management" as the only objective.
- Creates a vertical line of managers who funnel decisions down to the working team.
- When managers are working together with the working team.
- Managers are executing valuable work related to the final outcome.
- "Management" as a task is part of a manager's job but not the primary focus.
- Creates a horizontal line of managers making decisions with the working team.
- "Horizontal management" is also called "flat management".
Mixing vertical and horizontal
Different companies have different management strategies, with a mix of horizontal and vertical structures depending on size and function.
For smaller companies, a horizontal management structure may work best, while larger companies may require a mix of both.
Finsweet primarily follows a horizontal management strategy, attempting to default to this approach as the company grows. While some functions may require a more vertical approach, the goal is to remain horizontal for as long as possible to foster a strong and collaborative culture.
For example, product development aims to be mostly horizontal while finance may be mostly vertical. Mixing these strategies is normal and likely necessary depending on department.
Even with hundreds of employees, it is possible to maintain a mostly horizontal structure with the right processes in place.
Currently, at 50 employees, Finsweet remains primarily horizontal across the entire company.
Management strategies at Finsweet
Managers do more leading and less managing
A better word for "manager" is "leader". A good manager does more leading than managing.
Traditional management: Telling people what to do and carefully looking over all deliverables of the team.
Leadership management: Leading individuals on the team to personal and collective success.
A manager acting successfully as a leader is following horizontal management mentality.
At Finsweet, managers strive to act as leaders for their teams as this is a natural approach to scaling their team and department.
Managers work with the working team
The best way to lead a company in a horizontal management direction is to have managers actively join the working team. This creates a healthy environment for everyone.
Teams respect managers who can understand and execute the same work the team does. Managers who don't fully understand the tasks completed by their team may get less respect.
Managers who work alongside their team members during the decision-making process are more likely to make informed decisions that benefit the entire team.
Ultimately, this manager co-working strategy increases the likelihood of success for the entire team.
Self-sufficient teams make decisions without managers
Self-sufficient - Able to maintain oneself or itself without outside aid. Capable of providing for one's own needs.
We love to hire self-sufficient people at Finsweet.
A self-sufficient person can:
- Manage themself
- Make decisions for themself
- Progress without directions
- Create their own directions
- Oversee their work, deadlines, and deliverables
Individuals who who are self-sufficient, dedicated, and knowledgeable may not need a manager to succeed. Creating a team of self-sufficient individuals can eliminate the need for an unnecessary vertical manager altogether.
Rather than functioning as a traditional, vertical manager who oversees the team's daily and weekly deliverables, a manager can serve as a leader who spends their time executing and leading the team.
This approach encourages a more collaborative and efficient work environment, as team members are empowered to take ownership of their responsibilities and work together to achieve shared goals.
Small teams require less management
Small teams tend to be more agile, productive, and require less oversight.
Larger teams have access to more resources but also require more management and coordination.
At Finsweet, we strive to keep team sizes as small as possible to maximize efficiency and minimize the need for management.
Many of our largest projects are led by teams of 3, 4, or 5 people, as we believe that smaller teams are more effective at delivering high-quality work.
As team size increases, there is a growing need for management to ensure that everyone is aligned and working together effectively.
Examples of management requirements:
- A team of 3 people can likely operate without management.
- A team of 10 people may need management.
- A team of 20 will likely need management.
- A team of 30 will definitely need management.
By keeping our teams small, we we reduce the requirement of traditional, vertical management. This allows our managers to focus on executing and leading, rather than solely managing their teams.
This approach enables us to maintain high levels of productivity and efficiency, while fostering a culture of collaboration and teamwork.
Encourage the team to challenge the manager's ideas
Managers work with teams to create ideas and make decisions.
We encourage each team member to challenge ideas and decisions they passionately disagree with.
We don't want to challenge ideas just to create a debate. We want to challenge ideas that feel fundamentally wrong to us.
As the leader of the team, a manager may have the final say in decisions, but we avoid making "dictator decisions."
Nobody likes dictatorship, except for the dictator. If decisions are always forced on the team, team members will become dissatisfied with their job.
Check out "Team emoji voting: Using a fun voting system to be more democratic," an article that explores a fair system for challenging ideas and following the popular vote.
Always consider new managers and decision-makers
When deciding how a new initiative or department will be managed, always consider "new" or "less experienced" people as leaders.
We use this framework to decide how management and decision-making are delegated.
This process applies to the management of simple self-managed tasks to the management of entire departments.
When deciding how to manage a new initiative or department, it's important to consider individuals who are "new" or less experienced as potential leaders.
We use this framework to determine how management and decision-making responsibilities are delegated, from simple self-managed tasks to entire departments.
To determine the right manager for a task, we follow these steps:
Understand the task:
- What output is required from this manager?
- What skills are required to be this manager?
- How much time is needed for this management role?
Decide who manages the task:
- Who on the team can give the required output?
- Who on the team has the skills required for this management position?
- Who on the team has the available time to manage this process?
The answer may be the most senior person in the company, or it may be a newer, junior-level employee.
If they have the ability to succeed, we may select them for the role.
Avoid these management inefficiencies
Avoid creating managers that only manage
Managers should not have "management" as their primary workday activity. While management may be part of their responsibilities, it should not be their sole focus.
Managers spending their day managing is how vertical management structures start.
If managers have to spend all day managing, one of three things is likely the cause:
1. The working team is not capable of being self-sufficient.
- The team is not reliable in completing the task correctly.
- Solution: Improve team quality.
2. Processes that are in place don't allow the team to be self-sufficient.
- Company requirements make the team take unnecessary steps, which prevents them from being self-sufficient.
- For example, the decision-maker manager is slow to respond but is required to give the final approval.
- For example, the decision maker consistently makes late iterations to delivered work, resulting in high-stress, tight, or missed deadlines.
- Solution: Change management processes that delay final deliverables.
3. The manager is managing a team that doesn't need management.
- Sometimes managers aren't needed at all. Managers are there as a traditional figurehead.
- It's most common to find unnecessary managers in vertical management structures.
- Solution: Implement horizontal management and put the unnecessary manager to work or transition the manager to another role.
Finsweet avoids having manager-only team members to prevent these management inefficiencies.
Avoid awarding management by seniority
We avoid giving management roles and decision-making power solely based on seniority and experience.
Sometimes an experienced person is the best for a decision because their past experience is valuable in the context of the decision.
However, this does not mean management and decision power should always be given based on experience.
Senior-level people may become overworked and unable to focus on the most important decisions if they are responsible for every decision in the organization.
Junior-level people may not have the opportunity to develop their decision-making skills if they are not given the chance to take on management roles.
Use the decision-making framework above in the section, "Always consider new managers and decision-makers."
Junior employees won't be able to surprise you if you don't give them the opportunity to.
Avoid the desire to do everything yourself
Less experienced managers may feel the overpowering urge to handle all tasks and make all decisions on their own.
Fight this urge and practice working alongside the team rather than doing everything for them.
Managers may feel anxious about delegating tasks, believing that the team won't perform as well as they would. However, it's crucial for managers to trust their team with both execution and decision-making, and to develop their own delegation skills as a leader.
In this article, I discuss how I operate as a CEO in the background by delegating management and decision-making tasks. Just because I am capable of making a decision doesn't necessarily mean that I should.
Implementing effective management strategies and cultivating a strong management culture takes time and effort. It is not a quick fix and cannot be accomplished in a few days.
Some strategies may require weeks or months to integrate into a company, and developing a good management culture comes from years of continued strong leadership.
It is a process that requires patience, perseverance, and a commitment to continuous improvement.
At Finsweet, we have been practicing and refining our management strategies over years of operation, and we will continue to improve them to fuel our growth.